Theatre Review

Shakespeare and picnic in the rain. What could be more British?

Shakespeare.

Honestly, I don’t get it. There are countless things written since, but as he is widely classed as the ‘greatest playwright who ever lived’ we are forced to study his works for years throughout school, and then as an adult if you don’t like his stuff, you have no class.

Well, bollocks to that.

In 400 years, many people have lived, written and died but because we can let go as a country, a lot of that work goes largely ignored. What’s more, I just do not understand reading the script of something that is made for the stage. So much emotion, drama and character development is lost. But even if you do see one of Shakespeare’s plays on stage, language has evolved and changed so much during that time that unless you have a degree in historic English language, you HAVE to read the synopsis before attending.

However, this isn’t supposed to be a rant about Shakespeare, because actually, I really enjoyed the performance of Much Ado About Nothing by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It is obvious even to an amateur viewer that the cast really understand what they are portraying. They deliver their lines spot on, creating just the right emotion at the right time, earning guffaws from even the most stoic of audience members.

SITP Stage

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men perform the show just as the actors that Shakespeare wrote for would have done: an all-male cast, each playing multiple roles with scenes spattered with cheery song and dance. There is also something very special about watching outside, come rain or shine (and believe me, it was definitely the former). The only modern thing about the piece are the electric torches that light the stage when it gets dark. But I assume that this is because of the fire risk, not to mention that given the sheer amount of rain, flame would have been snuffed out and left the actors fumbling around in the dark. (I am also assuming that the costume and stage were made out of modern materials, but we’ll slide right past that.)  Also, the actors do not have mics. As someone who is naturally softly-spoken, I am in awe at the sheer volume to which the cast were able to project their voices. So much so that they could be heard echoing through the park even through the rain.

A very wet Anna
A very wet Anna

Something else I marvelled at was their ability to make light of the inclement weather, while in character, to add even more humour. At the point when Benedict hides from Claudio, Leonato and Don Pedro as they discuss Beatrice’s’ feelings for him, he dived behind the arbour onto the very wet stage. After, when they left and Benedict has his line:

“They seem to pity the lady: it seems her affections have their full bent. Love me!”

He gestured to his sodden clothes in wonder.

Speaking of which, the costumes were superb. In traditional Elizabethan-style clothes, I did feel a twinge of sympathy for wardrobe given the waterlogged state of the outfits by the end of the performance. Those sort of fabrics do not like getting wet.

I also loved the choice of masks for the masquerade party, each of which perfectly suited the character who was wearing it. It’s subtle things like this that are often overlooked by an audience, even though they contribute hugely to the overall feel of a performance.

Somehow, all of this coupled with an albeit soggy picnic and somewhat watered down wine, left even Shakespeare cynic me leaving very happy and thoroughly entertained.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are performing at a variety of locations up until 11th September this summer. Check out their website to find your nearest show.

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