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 http://thepublicreviews.blogspot.com/