Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Johannes Lenhard 17 June 2013

Magdalene Fellows Garden, Fri 14th June, 7pm

I do not need to narrate the well-loved story of Much Ado About Nothing, in which two couples are drawn together and forced to love within a complicated arrangement of kinship ties, intriguing hostility and witty twists. What director Katie Heath-Whyte and her team did with this Shakespeare play, however, is worth mentioning. Magdalene Drama Society has already impressed with the recent staging of Heart of Darkness, a breathtaking production full of light and shade, as well as the disturbing Pillowman, one of the best plays I’ve seen in Cambridge; Heath-Whyte had to deliver. And she did her best with a cast that could not have been more mixed in terms of experience: Benedick (Tom Stuchfield) for instance took part in ten productions overall this year, while half of the ‘minor’ cast played for the first time.

Beatrice (Catriona Stirling) was beyond fantastic. On the spot from the very beginning, she replicates the mastery of subtlety of feeling demonstrated in Kind earlier this year. Whether mockingly praying on her knees or in an earnest monologue contemplating her innermost feelings (‘What fire is in my ears’), Stirling hits the right tone and engages feistily with Benedick’s comments. Stuchfield seemed to find his way slowly into his role; only when the facade of the non-marriageable gentleman breaks down and he turns into the ‘love-angel’ for Hero and Claudius, does the complex relationship between his defensive arrogance and vulnerable affection for Beatrice becomes visible. Whereas Claudio (John King), Leonato (Viktor Bystrom) and Don Pedro (Ben Hawkins) were more important for the plot, the actual performances of Borachio (Elias Wynshaw), Margaret (Harriet Webb) and Don John (Daniel Leigh) outshone this supposed significance. Wynshaw particularly takes the play into the comedic realm where it belongs by wonderfully enacting the drunken fool.

It is, however, Heath-Whyte again who puts those actions into context, giving them sound and space. The set under the old trees of Magdalene’s fellows’ garden could not have been chosen more wisely. Despite temporary silences – Bystrom for instance often didn’t speak loud enough – the different spaces between the trees were ingeniously turned into back- and frontstage elegantly linking the different scenes. A grand mini-orchestra provided music. The play culminates in a fulminant finale, singing and dancing in bliss, which gave me goose bumps.

Johannes Lenhard