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Perhaps it was the challenging weather, but reviwers for Much Ado About Nothing were thin on the ground. Those that did see it though seemed to like it, with positive reviews appearing in the Oxford Times and Daily Information.

A gallery of pictures from the show is available to view.

OXFORD TIMES - Nicola Lisle

There are few things more quintessentially English than Shakespeare in a garden, and the Oxford Theatre Guild's Much Ado About Nothing, in a leafy setting at Trinity College, is a treat. Being outdoors presents challenges for the performers, though, and on the opening night some struggled to make their voices heard. In fact, the show was a little slow to ignite, but once the actors got into their stride this was an enjoyable, light-hearted romp with plenty of fun and silliness.

Director Joseph Kenneway has set the action in 1930s Spain, just after the Spanish Civil War — an excuse for some smart, crisp uniforms for the men and simple but effective attire for the ladies. The set, too, is suitably minimalist — the frontage of a building, plus a water feature that at first just looks decorative but later plays its own part in the plot.

This play, of course, is best known for the witty sparring between Beatrice and Benedick, and Ida Persson and Kieran Donnelly (pictured) don't disappoint for a second. Donnelly's oafish but immensely likeable Benedick is one of the most memorable portrayals in this production. He is well-matched by Persson's sparky, sarcastic Beatrice, and between them they wring every ounce of comedy from their encounters with obvious relish. But they manage some spellbinding moments, too, in the aftermath of Hero's alleged faithlessness, as a distraught Beatrice begs Benedick to kill Claudio to avenge her young cousin's honour.

Herb Cuanalo has a strong stage presence as the well-meaning Don Pedro, Zoe Wilgar is a sweetly demure Hero and Will Payne has fun as the drunken Dogberry. Marcus Davis-Orram, as Claudio, began a little tentatively on Tuesday night but increased in confidence as the evening progressed.



As this was one of Shakespeare's plays with which I am not especially familiar, I was anxious that I would have trouble following what was going on. I needn't have worried. The players performed beautifully and fluently; there was not a single weak link in the cast. The prose was delivered in a conversational style that was easy to follow and luxuriously expressive.

The comic timing of all the performers was impeccable, as was the interpretation of the dialogue. For me, Kieran Donelly was the show-stealer as Benedick, with his superb delivery and excellent timing he was a treat to observe. Ida Persson was wonderfully brassy and amusing as Beatrice, and was perfectly balanced by Zoe Wilgar's demure and understated portrayal of Hero.

The attractive, clean-cut Trinity College gardens provide the perfect setting for an outdoor show; the bright stage and lively performers contrasting wonderfully with the dull and threatening sky. There were a few pre-emptive hoods up in the audience, however the only few spots of rain that actually occurred fell fittingly during the passionate chapel scene, where Benedick and Beatrice declare their love for one another, and Beatrice wishes Claudio dead for shaming her family.

Refreshments were available in the interval along with blankets for hire, which many audience members, including myself, took advantage of. The temperature was what you'd expect on bonfire night, rather than on a midsummer's eve, however judging from the amount of laughter throughout the performance, this clearly didn't stop the audience from enjoying themselves.

The costumes and staging were evidently designed with mild summer weather in mind. At one point, one of the cast members leaps into a fountain in the middle of the stage, and then humorously continues to perform a monologue drenched from head to toe.

The storyline is absorbing and wickedly funny, as well as being full of classic Shakespearisms including: mistaken identities, weddings, villains, sibling rivalry, and a hilarious denouement. And although I wasn't familiar with this play before today, I now undeniably have a new favourite.


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