By Eleanor Gunn
Foot of the Hill Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing gives some much needed light relief from end of term deadline stress and showcases the stunning talent of St Mary’s College.
Despite wrestling with the awkward college dining hall staging, and not always winning, the quality in this production comes from the sheer talent of the cast. Julie McElroy, new on the scene to Mary’s drama, was a feisty yet vulnerable Beatrice who makes a great match with the talented Andrew Dallamore, who played Benedict. Though they had great on stage chemistry, perhaps their shining moments came in their ‘overhearing’ scenes, in which they used stage props and ninja moves ingeniously to travel around the stage.
Individual use of props was generally executed well, and particular mention must go to Megan Frogley and her hilariously keen use of her notebook, though I did feel the huge tables caused issues. I appreciated their different angling to show the different settings for each scene but, to be honest, I did not keep track of what each position meant, yet still managed to follow the story, meaning their overall role for me was to make the scene changes long and noisy. Sadly, these awkward scene changes greatly disrupted the flow of the play and, though in some ways unavoidable, the changes would have been improved by the presence of some music to drown out the clattering.
Tech was generally used well and innovatively, though the projector did at times seem to be wonky, and the main characters could have perhaps done with individual microphones, especially in the party scene where they were often drowned out by the conga line.
In the first few scenes, some characters seemed to take a while to warm up to the Shakespearian language, or spoke too quickly, making it hard to follow them, but they soon got into the rhythm of the performance, especially Greg Burr, who developed into a brilliantly sneaky Don Pedro.
The modern take was interesting, especially the post-engagement selfies, but was not always fully integrated; for example, I had no idea what ‘Messina Inc.’ was and who exactly was part of it and how, just that it kept appearing on the screen behind the characters. Though hard when following a strict script, hints using signs or silent activities (for example, showing what the characters were doing on their laptops when seemingly at work) could have helped the audience in understanding this element.
The costumes were also modern, and they were particularly effective in communicating the roles of the characters to the audience, from the ‘SECURITY’ t-shirts of the watchmen, to the pink tabards of the waiting women/cleaners. The fancy dress outfits were fantastic; Shakespeare performed in a Santa outfit and a duck onesie, why not?
Generally, the high points were found in the little things in this performance: Joey Green’s priceless facial expressions as Claudio, Andrew Dallamore’s modern spin on Shakespearian language, the watchmen’s incompetent counting on their fingers, followed by saying wildly different numbers, the hilarious double act of Friar Francis and Sister Bernadette, played by Jordan Charlesworth and Rachel Edwards, the repulsive villainy of Thomas Collie as Borachio (though at times I felt his lewdness was taken to inappropriate levels, matched by ‘that’ video), and Chris Lavelle, as ‘Boy’, dropping his files everywhere.
Frustratingly, there was also much unexplored potential. Fliss McDowall was a wonderfully stern Dogberry who was endearingly outraged by being called an ‘ass’, but her relationship with her subordinate, played by James Sellens, was a missed opportunity for character development. While James did well at copying Fliss’s movements, if they had managed to co-ordinate them so that it was an exact, simultaneous copy (though this is perhaps unrealistic given limited rehearsal time), accompanied by frustrated or self-satisfied facial expressions, or simply the odd knowing glance to the audience to get them involved with the game, these two could have been even funnier. Similarly, I was unsure of the exact relationship between Borachio (Collie) and Conrada (Lizzie Purcell), and felt there was room for imaginative development here too.
However, overall, and with the inevitable limitations of rehearsal time and performance space in mind, it was a brilliant night out with plenty of giggles, and a great break to take from those summatives.
Photograph: Megan Liardet