Continuing the theatrical trend for all things al fresco this
term, Creation Theatre Company have returned to Headington Hill
Park with the chaotic comedy Much Ado About Nothing. Director
Charlotte Conquest has played up Shakespeare’s Mediterranean
setting with sizzling flamenco dances and vibrant costumes,
making it the perfect play for a balmy summer evening. The most striking aspect of this production is its use of
space. The stage is a simple red square but the action is
projected on different levels by means of a treehouse nestled in
a magnificent oak. The expanse of parkland behind the stage
proper is used to full effect to create extra comic gems,
supposedly taking place off-stage. This heightens the dramatic
irony which lies at the core of Shakespeare’s comedy, as we
see characters approaching long before those on stage do. The
scenes in which Benedick and Beatrice ‘accidentally’
overhear gossip about their tempestuous relationship make
particularly good use of the versatile stage set. The pace is
relentless with characters entering from unexpected directions,
(and occasionally on bicycles) having performed lightning-fast
costume changes. The cast have a rollicking good time evoking a
real sense of girlish mischief and laddish japing. The mood
becomes briefly more sombre at Hero’s ‘funeral’
with an atmospheric torch-lit procession, but the production
really excels at the slapstick consequences of mistaken identity.
The watch scenes are, as always, a little tedious and silly but
they are redeemed by Tom Peters’ wonderful turn as the
arthritic Verges with his cumbersome walking frame. Peters makes
use of the same physical gags in his main role as Benedick;
rubber-faced and dynamic, he plays up to the audience as a
swaggering confirmed bachelor. His only match in the strutting
stakes is the razortongued Beatrice, played by Elizabeth Hopley.
She sensitively tracks the change in Benedick’s sparring
partner from cross-dressing livewire into a more emotional,
softer character. Dudley Hinton’s lovelorn Claudio is the
archetypal callow youth with puppy dog eyes and a boy bandesque
white suit. Julien Ball is also consummately smooth as Don Pedro,
from his Godfather-inspired entrance complete with mirror shades,
trimmed goatee and medallion, to his swift wooing of Hero for his
lovestruck friend Claudio. Conquest’s production is full of light comic touches
seasoned with splashes of Sicilian colour. As long as the British
weather holds out, there is no better way to round off the Oxford
term.ARCHIVE: 6th week TT 2004