A great strength of Anderson’s productions is the way in which her cast point the text. So Claudio ([Ben Deery)’s initial response to the suggestion that Hero (Ellie Kirk) might be a suitable bride is clearly one to establish whether or not she will be Leonato (John Webb)’s sole heir. Not so much love at first sight, then. More of a calculation. Pat Whymark’s excellent score is allied to Yael Loewenstein’s choreography to underpin rather than decorate the words and the action throughout.
Not all of this takes place on stage. Nicholas Tizzard’s Benedick uses the forestage to take the audience into his confidence and Polly Lister’s Beatrice flutters up and down the aisles in her eavesdropping scene. The ambiguity of Beatrice’s place in the household is cleverly suggested. I enjoyed Tizzard’s Benedick enormously but would have liked a little less stridency from Lister. Beatrice should have charm as well as wit, otherwise she’s a shrew rather than a shrewd yoiung lady however large the shoulder-chip she conceals.
There’s a conflation of Don John’s supporters into Nick Underwood as Borachio – he also plays Friar Frances – and of Hero’s gentlewomen into Suzanne Ahmet as Margaret – she has a good singing voice. James Wallace’s taciturn and brooding Don John contrasts well with his doddery Verges; Ian Barritt doubles Antonio and Dogberry, not a watch captain to tangle with. Don Pedro can be a rather aloof character, but Michal Onslow rounds him out nicely.