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Shakespeare is perhaps one of the most well-known playwrights of our time. So, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his death, Lancaster University Theatre Group decided to finally tackle one of the classics, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, in Lancaster University’s very own Nuffield Theatre. Why they took a five-year break from Shakespeare, I don’t know, but I hope they don’t again.
I came into the production with a little apprehension, wondering if the next two hours and twenty minutes would be spent well. My doubts were quickly assuaged; As the lights dimmed and the cast jumped into action, time was forgotten.
One thing that really stood out for me was the set. With minimal props, such as a garden bench, an archway and some green sheets underfoot, the stage was transformed into a quaint garden. The church was made simply with a light filter shone on the back curtain and a couple of benches. Despite this, it merged with the acting beautifully; You didn’t need any other details when you were focussed entirely on the cast.
Unfortunately, scene changes were another matter. Sometimes the transitions worked seamlessly, and you would hardly notice as your focus was on the actors placed there in their own little bubble purely to distract you from the cast behind them. However, not all these transitions were smooth, and even though music was played to try and dispel the awkwardness of having to remove two great big green sheets, even this jarred a little. Still, it wasn’t a deal breaker for me, as the transitions lasted barely any time at all, and the scene changes were worthwhile, contributing greatly to the sense of place and immersion.
Regarding music, the group decided to do something a little different, with covers of current songs given a 60s makeover. This was reflected in the costumes as well, and which I would say positively impacted the performance. Rather than sticking to 16th century designs, this updated, fresh version of Shakespeare’s classic worked well, making the intimidating play much more accessible to the audience.
Whilst these elements worked in the play’s favour, the presence of this music sometimes spoiled it. Sound is a major part of theatre and can add to the visual spectacle, but when the music is so loud that it makes the audience strain to hear the words of the actors, it isn’t ideal. I’d have expected the actors to trip themselves up a few times with the lines, but they flowed beautifully, and I was surprised by the speed with which they could deliver them. This wasn’t always a positive, though. Some of the cast delivered their lines so quickly it was hard to catch the individual words. This was rare, and it was easy to pick up and follow the plot through the next line, so did not really serve to be too much of an issue. This speed coupled with the music, however, sometimes masked whole conversations, such as in the party scene; Not all the cast were projecting as well as they should have been considering the music and the large theatre in which they performed. Being quite near the stage, I was struggling to hear some lines, so I doubted if anyone sat at the back would hear anything, which would be a shame.
The casting itself was brilliant. I could clearly see each actor as their character, and though roles such as Benedick and Beatrice were hard to take on, the actors rose to the challenge. The humour was spot on, and the actors delivered their lines so well that the audience couldn’t help but laugh. In the past, I’d never really found Shakespeare’s comedies that funny, but maybe that’s because I was reading them; Seeing it brought to life shed a whole new light over the play, and LUTG really did it justice.
The serious drama of it played perfectly alongside the upbeat comedy, and it’s hard to imagine they could have staged the scenes in which Beatrice (Aurelia Gage) and Benedick (James Bone) eavesdrop on their friends any better than they had. Aside from the obvious comedic duo, there were other surprising sources of humour, such as the hopeless Watchmen (Ellen Wagstaff and Jess Scott) and Dogberry (Joe Maddocks) who rides in on a wooden scooter, much to the audience’s amusement. These were key moments where the comedy could have flopped, but instead it elevated the production to a new level, enrapturing the audience and refusing to lose their focus.
All in all, the production was a great success. I hardly noticed the hours go by, and with the casting so spot on, and the behind-the-scenes crew doing their best to change props, sort out costume changes and music and lighting, I’d have to say I was thoroughly impressed. LUTG really brought ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ to life, and I’d love to see them conquer another of Shakespeare’s classics in the future.