Much Ado About Nothing (St Paul's Church)
A nicely streamlined open air version of Shakespeare's summer comedy
Set in a balmy, love-saturated Sicily and filled with masked dances and ditties, Much Ado About Nothing is one of the loveliest of Shakespeare's plays to watch during the warmer months. Kudos is due, then, to Iris Theatre's outdoor production, which, despite drizzle, mizzle and out-and-out downpour, still manages to make you feel warm, fuzzy and full of summer lovin'.
Taking place in the grounds of Covent Garden's Actor's Church, the production moves the audience from one side of the beautiful, rose-filled gardens to another as the show's protagonists – a fiery Beatrice adamant she will never wed, a stubborn Benedick who says the same and sweet lovers Hero and Claudio – fall in love, fall out of love, and get horribly tricked by prince Don Pedro's scheming brother.
The Iris cast are seven strong and are a very tight bunch of great talent. Though occasionally the instinct to shout their speeches in the open air takes over, generally they are excellent as they share and swap several roles between them, play instruments and sing. They make a slick ensemble.
Anne-Marie Piazza, always a joy to watch in this troupe, is a superb Beatrice and comes into her own in the scene of Hero's humiliation. "That I were a man I would eat his heart in the market place," she says, and you can see she really means it. There's some impressively quick, convincing changes from Jennifer Clement who plays Margaret, the Abbess, Don John and a messenger, while Emma McDonald brings out all the humour as Dogberry: "Yet forget not that I am an ass," she says with a charming seriousness. A flirty, fighty chemistry between Piazza and Nick Howard-Brown's Benedick is there from the off and it is their relationship that provides the meat to the floaty love story.
Draper's version is nicely streamlined and sticks to the most loved moments. Much Ado always was about fun and Draper ensures we get much of that. During the scenes, the pace doesn't let up, but in between, where the audience are shifted from place to place, things are slower and it does begin to feel a little stilted as the night wears on. The final wedding scene in the church also falls a little flat – possibly due to spacing and acoustic issues. But it's impossible to leave this show without a dream of dryer days and summer nights. Whatever the weather.
Much Ado About Nothing runs at St Paul's Church until 22 July.