The Marlowe Society’s Much Ado About Nothing is one of the best pieces of theatre I have had the pleasure to review during my time in Cambridge. Staged in the beautiful Cambridge Arts Theatre, this show unquestionably merits a ticket price slightly higher than that of amateur venues. Richard Beecham’s professional direction, along with the expertise of stage designers, is reflected in the show’s polished and thoughtful execution. From the moment I walked into the auditorium, I really was transported into another world (pardon the cliché); the players relax at ease across the stage, accompanied by atmospheric birdsong and the sounds of the countryside.
I would forgive the Cambridge student who is wary about spending £18-30 on a ticket to see Shakespeare; after a day of intellectually demanding work perhaps the effort to understand 16th century English is not as appealing as it might otherwise be. Yet, the cast delivered this show with an impeccable clarity. All too often with Shakespeare, I find myself missing much of the lyricism and richness of imagery because of the language barrier. But the confidence and effortlessness with which these young actors commanded Shakespearean English made it seem completely natural. Only with such well-delivered lines can the average 21st century audience properly appreciate Shakespeare’s creative genius.
The value of professional direction and design proved itself as much in the performance as in the set and costumes. The exact period in which the show is set is unclear, but this lack of specificity focuses our attention on the plot and the players rather than unhelpful historical parallels. The set’s minimalism achieves a similar affect. With remarkably few props, much of the show’s humour comes through in its thoughtful use of theatrical spaces. Here, Harry Redding, as Benedick, exhibited a real talent for non-verbal humour, and for me, served as the show’s comic climax. Coupled with a perfect allusion to Hot Fuzz after the interval in the Community Watch’s subtly sinister ‘for the common good’ ethos, enacted with all the necessary fervour by Eleanor Lind Booton and Amaya Holman, the show did not fail to fill the room with laughter.
It is difficult to justify not giving this show 5-stars; in many ways, it deserves them. Yet, given the ticket price and the professional direction, I could not help feeling that the second half did not quite match the first in energy. Certain scenes seemed to pass by without adding much to the show’s drama, functioning more as necessary links in the plot’s development than compelling, essential and enriching complements. Rather than building to a tangible feeling of climax, the second half felt like it released the intrigue of the first. Of course, I realise that this is more a criticism of Shakespeare’s writing than of this cast’s ability, but my honest impression was that the final face-offs between good and evil could have amounted to more than they did.
But don’t let this discourage you from buying a ticket. My first experience of the Cambridge Arts Theatre made for, in every way, a fantastically entertaining evening. The feeling of escape and immersion into the world of the show is achieved all the more easily in such a well-run, professional venue. As brilliant as the student-run amdram scene in Cambridge is, if you’re looking for a higher level of theatre, you don’t have to go all the way to London to get it.