Much Ado About Nothing
Simon Tavener and his company, Oxford Triptych Theatre, are well known for their minimalist OFS Shakespeares, drawing from both Town and Gown to swell the ranks of their actors.
With the OFS closing its doors for the last time, Much Ado About Nothing is not only OTT’s final production on its stage, but the final show to take place in the OFS Studio. So is it a worthy swan-song for one of Oxford’s most beloved venues?
In a word, yes.
In multiple words, it’s an ambitious production whose aims the performers ably meet. Gone is the usual minimalism and modern dress replaced by an atmospheric French Resistance setting, with radio broadcasts huge tricolour and the wafting scents of coffee and Gauloises cigarettes, not to mention some gorgeous costumes.
The acting too is of a generally high standard as well. Some of the more obvious humour is sacrificed to a more sombre tone, but this works well with the backdrop.
Beatrice and Benedick, Will Hatcher and Vicky Coleman have an excellent, biting chemistry in their insult-slinging contests, although this does make the later love scenes a challenge, one that they occasionally falter at.
Other highlights include a pleasingly tender Leonato, played as a cafe owner by Mike Taylor, and Colin Burnie’s Don Pedro, who nimbly switches from stateliness to boisterous, rapid-fire dialogue with Claudio and Benedick.
The villains of the piece are also excellent: though Jaffar Khan’s Don John occasionally drifts from engagingly vicious to slightly pantomimic, he is backed up by a classic comedic couple in the form of his henchman.
Josh Hall plays Conrade as adorably naive, which contrasts well with the drunken Borachio, played by James Phillips, who provides some pleasingly dirty laughs in the form of drunkenness and… all that drunkenness entails.
The watch scenes work well, though they could stand to tighten up the more physically comic elements, and while Eli Keehn plays Claudio the wide-eyed lover exceptionally, it is somewhat hard to believe he ever looked on any lady or battlefield with “a soldier’s eyes.”
Overall, a classic Shakespeare in an interesting setting well-evoked, and a fitting send-off for the OFS Studio. Check it out, and bon appetit