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Theatre Review (London): Much Ado About Nothing at the Open Air Theatre, Regents Park

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In Shakespeare’s time ‘nothing’ was pronounced ‘noting’ and ‘to note’ was ‘to overhear’. Contemporary audiences would have understood that they were going to see Much Ado About Eavesdropping. Wilful misinterpretation and misunderstanding are key to plot and humour in Shakespeare’s much-loved comedy, and both are well-handled in Tim Sheeder’s lively, light-hearted production. Philip Witcomb’s sinuous set of ramps and slopes offers plenty of opportunity for hide-and-seek humour, while the citrus trees and clever lighting bring the Messina sun into Leonato’s orchard.

Much of Much Ado is set outdoors. The play lends itself well to balmy summer evenings at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park: some of the surrounding trees have been trimmed since last year and the effect is a gentler accompanying rustle in the light breeze that follows sunset.

If Claudio and Hero are springtime and the villainous Don John is winter, then Beatrice and Benedick are autumn made glorious Indian summer by the ceasefire in the ‘merry war’ between them brought about by their friends. Samantha Spiro gives a spirited, charismatic performance as Beatrice: she allies the raillery to a limitless physical energy that makes her a pleasure to watch as she bounds around the stage. Sean Campion’s Benedick begins as a grizzled, outspoken cynic – the sort of mocker everyone delights in at a dinner party – who finds himself transformed by delighted surprise at falling in love. His wide-eyed boyish wonder, as he freely confesses his past hypocrisy and present infatuation, purchases his pardon.

Exuberance and energy are abundant in all the performances in the production: they go a long way towards rescuing Dogberry and the other members of the watch whose scenes would otherwise be on the eggy side.

Go and see this notable production: you’ll feel the younger for it.

This Open Air Theatre production of Much Ado runs till June 27.

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