As I walked into the beautiful grounds of Stafford Castle there was already a buzz of excitement and, as I took my seat, I was greeted with a beautiful set designed by Dawn Allsopp, against the stunning backdrop of Stafford Castle.
This marks the 25th anniversary production for Stafford Festival Shakespeare, which is produced by Stafford Gatehouse Theatre, launching all the way back in 1991. It is now one of the largest open air Shakespeare festivals in Europe.
This interpretation of the play opens in 1918, in Stafford, and actors had already taken their place on stage, presenting a revue to greet the soldier’s home from war. The wartime era was instantly evoked, with songs including Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me A Bow Wow and the audience-pleasing Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts. Adding to the proceedings was the inclusion of an array of talented actor-musicians, who skilfully aided the transition of scenes throughout the play.
Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, although elements of the storyline stray into a tragedy, particularly as Hero is jilted at the altar by Claudio, the emphasis is very much on love in its different forms. Benedick and Beatrice are the inevitable lovers that at first mock the idea of love, but are tricked by their friends into believing each are in love with the other.
Sherry Baines and Philip Bretherton took on the iconic roles of Beatrice and Benedick respectively. What made this exceedingly special is that they are a couple in real-life so the onstage chemistry was instant. Their bickering exchanges were hilarious and every line was delivered on point, making it one of the funniest interpretations of the show I have seen. A particular highlight was when they were each listening in on the ‘private conversations’ between their friends, who are discussing how much Beatrice loves Benedick and vice versa. Bretherton and Baines both had the audience in fits of laughter, as plant pots, lampposts and various other objects became their hiding places to listen in.
The charismatic Claudio was played by Tom Palmer who’s instant love for Hero (played superbly by Catherine Lamb) was endearing. However, when he is fed false information leading him to believe Hero has been disloyal, his character shift was utterly compelling. Palmer commanded the stage as he chastised Hero on their wedding day. Jake Ferretti was equally cold as Don Pedro, the normally generous and courteous Prince and even Edward York’s jovial Leonato turns on the wrongly accused Hero.
Jon Trenchard excellently played the devious Don John who orchestrates the plan to shame Hero, whilst the action was hilariously interjected by the bumbling Dogberry, played entertainingly by Phylip Harries. A particularly beautiful addition to the show was the music, including It Was A Lover And His Lass and Wedding Is Great Juno’s Crown famously in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Both sang enchantingly by James Haggie and the ensemble of actors.
With excellent support from David Westbrook, Kate Robson Stuart, Charlie Tighe, Genevieve Helson and Dan De Cruz, the show came together under the fantastic direction from Peter Rowe, musical direction from Greg Palmer and all of the input from the rest of the creative team, from choreography to costumes, lighting and sound design.
Much Ado About Nothing promises a stunning evening in a picturesque setting and it really is a must-see show.
Tickets for Much Ado About Nothing start from as little as £12. To book tickets click here or call the box office on 01785 619080. The show runs at Stafford Castle until Saturday 11 July.
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