Review – Much Ado About Nothing at St Stephen’s

In the cooling arches of the beautifully refurbished St Stephen’s in Hampstead a very gentile evening is taking place.  Antic Disposition’s production of Much Ado About Nothing may lack a raucous joie de vivre, but it is a very enjoyable, if slightly safe, evening. 

We are in the victorious year of 1945 and Don Pedro and his men have returned from fighting in the Second World War to find a society much changed in their absence.  Women have been working in roles other than that of wife and mother and the shift of power has subtly changed.  Into this framework Antic Disposition have successfully placed Shakespeare’s playful war of the sexes, Beatrice’s independence and Hero’s dutiful submission, Benedick’s acceptance of Beatrice as an equal and Don Pedro’s propensity to buy and sell women like objects, all sitting comfortably in this developing era.

Directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero utilise the elegant stone floored nave of St Stephen’s to polite effect with the red and white chequered audience tables framing the space and creating a pleasant intimacy of environment.  The sunlight dappled floor presents a very pretty stage and the action moves smoothly if a little reservedly.  Peppered with some gently smiling moments, this reserve for the most part stops these grins from ever developing into full throttle laughter and the comedy throughout is not always as prominent as it should be. Dogberry in particular has been directed in a very slow fashion making his usually hilarious scenes a little dampening.

Anouke Brook brings a centred strength and inherent sexiness to her barbed and husky Beatrice and as her sparring partner Ashley Cook is a very dapper and watchful Benedick, if lacking in a little merriment.  Bethany Minell twinkles prettily as the youthful and easily impressionable Hero, not an enviable part, and Chris Waplington turns in a very intelligent and dastardly Borachio.

Risebero’s design of delicate strings of lights and bunting which line the entrance and the white clothed, sunflower and orange filled, trestle table simply lend a gentle Southern French feel to the piece.  The sound has slight memories of The Last of the Summer Wine but although the recorded soundtrack jars a little, the cast choral singing moments are strong and fill the space impressively.

Lightly funny, gentle and pleasant, this is a restrained but highly affable night out.  If the echoes of Kenneth Branagh’s iconic 1993 film are a little strong it doesn’t really matter in a production which lightly prods at the war of the sexes and comes away leaving one, if not exactly completely satisfied, then definitely cordially warmed.

Runs at St Stephen’s Church, Hampstead until 19 July 2009

Review originally published online at


Exposure has everything to do with length.

“A David has emerged to challenge the Edinburgh Goliath: the Camden Fringe” The Guardian

The fourth Camden Fringe starts on 3rd August and in its three year tenure it has grown into a diverse and credible festival.  But apart from the above golden nugget from the Guardian very little national press covers the up and coming contender.  This of course has something to do with the presence of the saturated giant that is Edinburgh but there is another much more practical reason for this lack of printed promotion.

Looking through the brochure this year and attempting to pick shows to review and cover for both The Camden Voyeur and Fringe Review, I was struck by how every show, with the exception of perhaps 3 or 4, is only running for a two/three day period.  A write up is somewhat redundant therefore because you see it on the first night, the review comes out and it’s already the last night.  This is especially true for a printed publication such as The Camden Voyeur which has a turn around of 4 days making it very tricky for the printed version to be current (although it will of course be fabulous and full of interviews and Victorian witticisms!).

Now I wouldn’t be boo who-ing if there wasn’t good work to promote, but as it is there are some real gems to be found in the programme and some fabulous venues involved and it would be quite nice to shout about it.  If the fringe wants to get more national coverage and therefore boost its profile (and I’m just assuming that it does by the way, maybe it likes being David?) then it should consider programming work for longer runs.  And yes this would inevitably mean less shows but maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing either; quality and not quantity – now that’s the way to beat Edinburgh.

You shall go to the ball!

I am going to a mask ball on Thursday as part of Antic Disposition’s production of Much Ado About Nothing showing at St Stephen’s in Hampstead.  Sadly it’s not a part of the show as per say and more an after show party darrrrrrling.  But before it sounds like I’m crowing it’s only because usually it’s not expected or really ‘good form’ for press to attend parties so I’m rather excited.  You should be at home squirreling away on your computer and what if you were spotted by an over enthusiastic performer who was desperate to see what you thought of the show.  There’s only so many deflecting responses that one can make because even if you liked it you don’t talk about it until the review is out in black and white with the artists – rule one apparently.

But here it is on the press invitation; ‘Followed by a MASKED PARTY – Masks compulsory’.  So Cinderella can finally go to the ball, and my fairy godmother in this godsend? – my compulsory mask.  A mask enables you to become someone else, and so a critic can become a paying member of the public and no enquiring eyes peering through their cut holes will be able to tell the difference.  Of course I will still have to get back to do the review pretty early in the evening, but one dance won’t hurt and this girl’s dancing shoes need a bit of a wiggle. So off to the ball I go, maybe I’ll see you there, but will you see me?

S-27 Review – Finborough Theatre


by Sarah Grochala



It is sweltering hot and a guillotine like camera click is the only sound that fills the room, apart that is, from a boy’s desperate wail for his mother.  So begins Sarah Grochala’s potent play S-27 which has been given an emotionally gut wrenching production at Finborough theatre in a piece which may not teach you anything new about the atrocities of human oppression but will place you right at the centre of it. 


Nameless and faceless S-27’s stream through May’s room getting their photographs taken before walking ominously through their last door.  But May is beginning to apply names and stories to these faces and as each person comes and goes, she takes on the role of a Confessor for the dead and her hard worn facade begins to crack. 


Grochala cleverly keeps her unspecified regime invisible in all but May and her assistant June, whose evident pleasure in torture is the only physical indication of their terrifying power.   But they are are inherently laced into every threatened ‘them’ and ‘they’ and the undercurrent of violence is evident in the terrified inmates and broken gaolers. 


A series of one on one scenes slowly shows humanity cracking through this chilling oak of power but it also means that the wider picture is simplified down into black and white situations, the regime is clearly bad, the oppressed are clearly good, when perhaps a more subtle look at individuals working within these groups would have been more interesting.  Grochala almost does this with an aggressive prisoner who used to be a bullying Police Captain, but it is the only glimpse of a less clear cut vision that we see. 


This simplicity does lend itself to some raw emotional moments however which are performed  with intense focus by the cast.  Pippa Nixon brings a taut strength to May which melts beautifully into a hopeful idealism and Brooke Kinsella is both hateful and pitiable as the cold June.  


S-27 may have an obvious message, but it succeeds in putting the audience for a moment into the shoes of both the oppressed and the oppressors and shows that even in the most desperate of situations hope springs eternal. 


Runs until Saturday, 4 July 2009

Tuesday to Saturday Evenings at 7.30pm. Sunday Matinees at 3.00pm. Saturday Matinees at 3.00pm (from 20 June).


Review originally published on Broadway Baby

Jasmine Cullingford talks about innovation and community at The Blue Elephant

Set just 15 minutes away from Oval Tube Station lies Camberwell’s best kept secret – The Blue Elephant Theatre. Established in 1999 by writer and director Antonio Ribeiro, it was originally known as a showcase for foreign political theatre, but with the arrival of Jasmine Cullingford as the new Theatre and Programme Manager in 2006, the theatre’s remit became much wider. Now in 2009 it boasts an eclectic and vibrant programme which encompasses a myriad of performance art forms, from dance to surreal cabaret and re-imaginings of classic texts.

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I’ve fallen in love and it’s with a long dead Elizabethan playwright.

It’s easy to skim the surface with William Shakespeare and miss all the nourishment beneath.  Rather capriciously if you’ve seen even one or two productions done very badly then it’s very easy to begin to think (somewhat treacherously) that maybe he’s not so ‘towering’ after all.

But then you see one show which makes you realise why the British are so proud of this  National Treasure and it’s like falling back in love with an old partner, suddenly all the annoying things that they do (the protracted verse, the ‘hilarious’ out of context social comedy) are transformed into actions and moments of delight.

And so it was for me.  Just as Rosalind falls so marvellously for Orlando in As You Like It, so I fell head over heels in love with Shakespeare after seeing a superlative production of this text which is currently on at the Globe.  My interest had previously been moistened with a little light flirting in the form of Timothy Sheader’s very sweet Much Ado About Nothing at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, but it wasn’t until I sat in the Globe earlier this week that I was once again hopelessly enamoured with the Bard. 

Director Thea Sharrock and her superb cast have an immense understanding of As You Like It, and what can often seem like a string of famous quotes is woven together with great humanity and sparkling wit in an enrapturing production. Out for all to see is Shakespeare’s inherent humour, the liveliness in his characters (in both villains and heroes) and his timeless empathy of the human condition all burnished with the richness of his beautiful language. 

Shakespeare then is daring, funny, lively, empathic, poetic, and elegant; it’s no wonder that I feel like a flushed school girl eager to see the next play from my long forgotten crush (I have already watched an outdoor promenade version of Romeo and Juliet, and still the flame burns for more).  But I’m not a jealous lover and there’s plenty of Shakespeare to go around this season for everyone, if that is, you fancy it.

2 reviews and the promise of an interview…

Further to my post on the Blue Elephant last week, I was fortunate enough to interview Jasmine Cullingford who runs the space and will be posting this interview over the next couple of days…please watch this space.

But now reviews and views on a bizarrely brilliant Swedish cabaret and a sparkling outdoor Much Ado….

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