2016 marks year-long celebrations of the life and works of William Shakespeare. On the 400 year anniversary of perhaps this country’s greatest ever playwright, Artistic Director Douglas Rintoul has breathed new life into the Queen’s Theatre, beginning his tenure with an elegant and heartfelt take on one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies.
Rintoul’s setting for the play is a somewhat familiar one as Shakespearean adaptations go. Set in the latter stages of the Second World War, Jean Chan’s set is that of a country garden with perfectly-trimmed hedgerows and a healthy amount of bunting thrown in for good measure. It certainly transports us to another era, embracing the setting rather than just offering us a nod to it.
The eleven-strong cast is made up of a fine mix of actors. Nigel Hastings’ suave Don Pedro oozes charm and Mark Jax also excels as a bolshy and commanding Leonato; their musical interlude of “hey nonny, nonny” is a highlight, as too is the ensuing comedy sequence which would not look out of place in a bedroom farce.
In contrast to this, Amber James manages a wonderful balance of child-like naivety and feisty enthusiasm as the hot-blooded Hero, and whilst the roles of Benedick and Beatrice are a couple of the most challenging in Shakespeare, Thomas Padden and Hattie Ladbury manage the task well, their dry-wit and cutting discourse well delivered.
The core group of actors who make up the cast are also accompanied by a community chorus and members of the Queen’s Youth Theatre scheme, a rather fitting approach to modern, suburban theatre, and one which has certainly managed to win over the audience in Hornchurch.
Whilst the production has its fair share of laughs, sadly these aren’t always in the right places and this version does lack a degree of originality. But whilst this may be the case, if cosy and accessible Shakespeare is your thing then you will not be disappointed.
Review by Daniel Jenkins
New Artistic Director Douglas Rintoul has launched the spring season with his Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch debut, Much Ado About Nothing.
Featuring a large cast and set amid the jubilant celebrations after the Second World War, this much-loved romantic comedy is the first play to be directed by Douglas since taking office in October. It also commemorates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
It’s the end of the war and Leonato throws a party for the victorious Duke and his troops. Claudio falls in love with Hero and Hero with Claudio, and nothing will keep them apart. Claudio’s friend Benedick loves Beatrice and Beatrice loves Benedick – but they won’t admit it – and nothing will bring them together. Only the devious scheming of a resentful prince forces the pair to eventually reveal their true feelings for one another.
They say life imitates art. True enough, Beatrice and Benedick’s social confidence and rich life experience is matched by the actors portraying them – Hattie Ladbury and Thomas Padden, whose hugely diverse credits range from the West End and Shakespeare’s Globe to numerous parts on television and film.
On playing one of Shakespeare’s greatest female leads, Hattie beams: “I have always wanted to play Beatrice – I love her. She rocks and it is a great pleasure to explore this role!”
Meanwhile, youthful Claudio and Hero are played by bright-eyed drama graduates Amber James and James Siggens, thrilled to be joining the Queen’s company. “I’m learning a lot from watching the other brilliant actors,” says Amber. “Everyone is so committed.”
Whether or not you’re new to the game, Thomas insists actors must be treated equally: “There is no hierarchy. You give new actors respect and look forward to seeing what they do with it.”
James adds: “This is my first job – it is amazing and scary. But I’m grabbing it with both hands and seeing where it goes!”
Filled with mistaken identities, deceptions and misunderstandings, Much Ado About Nothing is truly one of Shakespeare’s most riotous comedies, and Beatrice and Benedick are his wittiest lovers! Inventive staging and a sparkling jazz-filled soundtrack add to the magic.
The cast’s wonderful breadth of experience includes credits at the Globe, National Theatre, Regent’s Park Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Court and in the West End. Screen work includes Dr Who, EastEnders, Downton Abbey and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
They are: Liam Bergin, Rosie Barden, Jamie Bradley, Pascale Burgess, Nigel Hastings, Eliza Hunt, Mark Jax, Amber James, Hattie Ladbury, Thomas Padden, Sam Pay, James Siggens, Noel Sullivan and Sam Walters. The cast is supported by a 12-strong community chorus: Graham Bennett, Martin Hart, Mandy Lyes, Lucy Mason, Alex Raynham, Leah Rowlands, Hayley Sanderson, David Savage, Pam Shrimpton, Marie Watson and Megan Withers.
Director Douglas Rintoul has worked with numerous companies on a variety of productions across the world, and is also an award-winning playwright. Design is by Jean Chan, musical direction by Julian Littman, lighting design by Matt Haskins, sound design by Helen Atkinson and choreography by Tim Jackson.
Much Ado About Nothing
Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
4th to 26th March 2016