Much Ado About Nothing
ACS Random's production of Shakespeare's comedy at the Park Theatre, setting the action just after WW2, opened last week
The smell of mulled wine is in the air and it's Christmas in Forties Britain as soldiers Benedick (Garry Summers), Claudio (Andrew Venning) and Don Pedro (Alexander Nash) return home at the end of World War Two.
This version of Shakespeare's comedy-cum-drama Much Ado About Nothing plunges us into a whirligig of postwar Christmas parties. The sly matchmaking of Benedick and Beatrice - a charming, Scottish, kilted Summers and sparkling Libby Evans - is a lot of fun and the biggest joy of the show.
Of course all changes when earnest chap Claudio's engagement to beauty Hero (Scarlett Clifford) is scuppered by scheming Don John (a dour-faced Jack Lewis).
Evans constantly draws the eye, displaying wit and charm whether mocking her enemy Benedick or entertaining Hero: and there's a real pull between her and Summers.
Elsewhere Gordon Ridout as bumbling sleuth Dogberry and female accomplice Verges (Catherine Nix-Collins) make a chuckle-worthy pair as almost pre-Cold War spies.
While the Second World War setting isn't pursued as thoroughly as it could be, it does lend Hero's "funeral" an even more sombre dimension as Claudio plays the bugle with a soldier's tribute.
Some staging falters too: Julian Bird as Hero's father Leonato does well as generous host and outraged gent but in a key speech he faces away from half of the audience. Some of the busier scenes lose pace with the cast pegged into corners to keep the sight lines. Director Andrew Shepherd could easily have sacrificed these for more verve.
Deliciously pointed banter between eventual lovers Beatrice and Benedick tends to be the best bit of Much Ado - and it's certainly the best part of this one.