"Much Ado About Nothing" by Nottingham Shakespeare Company
Bulwell Forest Garden, Nottingham.
First let me have a quick chat about the venue. Nottingham Shakespeare Company are no strangers to playing in the open air, and I personally think seeing Shakespeare in the open is a great way to relax into watching any of his brilliant works. Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed outdoors in the first place, so the Nottingham Shakespeare Company are just going back to the Bard's roots.
The venue is in the middle of an estate in Bulwell and is absolutely delightful with community sections of plants and flowers and a cute mini bugs hotel - that takes me back to when my kids were small. There are facilities for pizza making, which several of the audience members eagerly partook, and drinks available. And then there is the performance area which was very well shielded and a fairly large grassy performance area. Audience members sat on blankets, or like myself who had been to outdoor plays previously, bought their own fold up chair for comfort. Shakespeare in the sun with food, picnic fare and drinks on a Sunday afternoon. What a treat.
OK, on to the play and the performance itself.....
Count Claudio falls in love with Hero, the daughter of his host. Hero's cousin Beatrice (a confirmed spinster) and Benedict (an eternal bachelor) are each duped into believing the other is in love with them. Claudio is deceived by a malicious plot and denounces Hero as unchaste before they marry. She faints and is believed dead, but recovers to be proved innocent by a chance discovery. Benedict wins Beatrice’s love defending her cousin’s honour, and to his surprise, Claudio is reunited with Hero, who he believed dead.
One thing, among others, that the Nottingham Shakespeare Company (NSC) do is they perform and also, often without you noticing inject modernisms into the action and the script, and I like that because it shows Shakespeare newbies the fun you can have by watching the plays and listening to the Bard's words. Some people may not understand everything that is said, but remember, these lines were written some 400 years ago. You don't have to understand every thing that is said, and the more Shakespeare you see, the better you "get it". The comedy a lot of the time is visual and physical but why miss out on the beauty of the language.
The players meandered betwixt the audience members and included them in the performance to a minor degree, and everyone, from the audience member handcuffed to Borachio, to the lady who loaned her baseball cap to help disguise Benedick, appeared more than happy to take part. Sometimes when an actor draws a member of the audience into "helping", they appear reluctant, but not this crowd. I can understand that as I originally hail from Bulwell Hall; Bulwellians are eager to help whatever.
Looking around at the quite large audience, there were quite a few children there, and that again is something that I liked to see because if you can get kids at a young age to laugh at Shakespeare, then you could have an audience for life. Make a child laugh and you have their attention. Shakespeare wrote, produced and directed great slapstick moments in his comedy plays, and when you have a cast so in tune with the great man's plays, you just can't go wrong where entertainment value is concerned. They break down barriers of snobbery because believe or not, some people have never seen a Shakespeare play performed live because they wouldn't "get it" and it's "not for them". Rubbish! Shakespeare is for everyone, at every level, and when the performances, like this one, is free, what have you to lose.
All ten actors played various roles as well as their main ones so I'll just mention their main roles.
Emma Carlton (Beatrice), Kasia Cichocka (Margaret), Christopher Collins (Benedick), Bronwyn K Crooks (Don John), Grace Deavall (Hero), Alastair Fiori-mcphee (Claudio), Jonathan Mansfield (Borachio), Toni Tailor-Bird (Conrade), Michelle-Louise Wright (Don Pedro) and Richard Young (Leonato). A stellar cast who know how to extract every drop of comedy from the script and then magnify it.
The play is directed by Michelle-Louise Wright, assisted by Alistair Fiori-Mcphee. Every time I see anything by the NSC, I know that the direction will be as sharp as the acting and as pacy and as fresh. There's no hanging around with these guys, and you never quite know where the next actor is going to appear from, so they keep you on your toes at all times.
We all know by now that Shakespeare's plays can be staged traditionally, in the future, the present or recent past, so you can have fun with costumes, and the NSC certainly had fun with the costumes, as well as the props. the Costume Designer for this one is Kate Lewis.
And we can't forget the Production Team behind this superb Shakespearian soiree who were Graham Johnson and Rachel Pilsbury.
I never make any secret about my love of Shakespeare; I'm nowhere near being an expert by a long shot, but I do love a Shakespearian production, especially in the open air, and especially when the play is in the hands of people who love what they do and understand the Bard so as to deliver an entertaining production, such as they did this afternoon.
The NSC will be touring various outdoor venues with their plays, so please check their webpage or Facebook page to see where you can see these travelling performers near to you. You will not be disappointed, believe me, and even though the performance was free, wouldn't it be lovely to donate something, however small, into one of their buckets afterwards, scan the QR code on the free programme or donate something via the card reader carried by one of the members. All monies collected from donations go straight back into current and future production costs, and they ain't cheap!