Manchester Theatre Awards

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Much Ado About Nothing (The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival)

William Shakespeare
Lowhurst Productions
The Salford Arts Theatre , Salford
26 July 2017 to 27 July 2017

Lowhurst Productions is a not for profit theatre company which tries to nurture young actors and give them experience with Shakespearean text. The Company may be young but is not without ambition tackling Much Ado About Nothing- one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies.

Although set in the present day, with the characters wearing modern costumes and using social media, this is a respectful approach to the source material. Director Bronte Appleby trims (mainly in the Dogberry scenes), but does not modernise, the text. The result is a brisk 90 minute version of the play that will hold the attention of audiences unfamiliar with the text but not offend purists.

It is a lively production with Ellie Ledwith’s choreography making a very successful party scene. Despite the lack of scenery Appleby can set a strong atmosphere capturing the fall of evening with fireflies flitting around the stage.

As is increasingly the case in Shakespearean productions the gender of the characters has been altered, with Leonato, the priest and the constables played as women. Indeed, the quality of the acting seems divided along gender lines. The women in the cast speak clearly, ably conveying the lyricism of the text and the author’s intent. However, with one notable exception, the men tend to speak the lines in a flat manner without intonation and with only limited clarity.

This contrast between male and female continues with the main characters. Madeleine Healey is a very modern Beatrice – confident and witty but not overbearing.  Joe Clegg also takes a modern approach; giving Benedick a louche style. It is a technique that works when the character addresses the audience direct – in the manner of a stand-up comedian - but is less successful in the context of the story. Benedick is a soldier after all so one might expect a formal, rather than a casual, approach.

Frances Eva is a feisty Hero finding steel in a character who is often portrayed as a bit of a wallflower. Hannah Bracegirdle’s condescending (rather than just dim) and preening Dogberry makes a fine double act with Carly Bell’s surprisingly perceptive Verges. The stand out performance, however, comes from Joseph Mihranian who steals every scene as a splendidly reptilian Borachio.

On the evidence of Much Ado About Nothing it will be worthwhile watching the young Lowhurst Productions company as it moves towards maturity.

Reviewer: David Cunningham