Story Shakespeare, presented by Year Out Drama Company, tells the tale of a Shakespeare play with imaginative fun, occasional use of the original language, and music which includes original songs. This year the group tackle Much Ado About Nothing, in which love and hate struggle amid celebrations and much comedy.
On a bare stage, youthful performers dressed similarly in modern clothes – with colour used to highlight character groups and occasional accents such as woolly hats and caps for the Neighbourhood Watch, and medals for war heroes – present the action of Much Ado with enthusiasm and many enjoyable gags, mostly based on the play itself. The convention of easy disguises which, somehow, no-one sees through is marvellously mocked with the use of sunglasses, and the idea to have the Watch become a Neighbourhood Watch is inspired, with use of these comical characters to create a couple of locations equally impressive. The comedy of incorrect words brilliantly written into the original is sustained, though changed to be pertinent to the modern setting, and works well, with the large ensemble also bringing some distinctive characterisations to the Watch members.
The company tends to present two different casts on alternate days and given the cast size that probably happens this year also. On this occasion Beatrice and Benedick, the wittily sparring lovers, were strong, she in intention and dry delivery, he in wryness, timing and emotional connection. The villainous Don John entered into the spirit of his playing with great commitment and some fine comic delivery, while his decent brother Don Pedro showed emotional depth as well as intellectual understanding. (Though there was a strange script moment where Don John was spoken of as fighting with his brother, rather than against him!) The leaders of the Watch, here Dorothy and Gladys, work very well in tandem and their timing is spot on.
Overall, the acting is clear but without much emotional connection and some lack of clear thought connection as well. The comedy is generally well served, but there are lags in pace occasionally, mostly in the picking up of cues. The use of the space, particularly by the Watch is strong, and there are decent choral numbers, though sometimes a little bland in lyrics, using known tunes and original music.
Story Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing is a very enjoyable race through the action of Shakespeare’s play, with the spirit of its characters well presented. There are some delightful comic touches and the story is very clear. It is a fine introduction to Shakespeare’s play and an amusing re-telling of it for those to whom it is already familiar.
A fun show!