Much Ado About Nothing
Stafford Borough Council took a massive gamble when it agreed to stage a pro-am Shakespeare play in the grounds of Stafford Castle back in 1991. But the gamble paid off and the Bard’s works have been staged beneath the floodlit ramparts every year since.
Now firmly established in the professional Shakespeare calendar, the annual event prides itself on producing plays that give the writer’s stories an unashamedly populist slant. Its 25th anniversary production is no exception. Half an hour or so before the official action starts, early arrivals at the hillside setting are treated to cast members serving up a delightful helping of comic musical entertainment which sets the tone for the decidedly accessible production to come.
Director Peter Rowe has set the comic tale at the end of the First World War. There seems to be no real reason for this, though it does enable him to feature hilarious bumbling bobbies who could have stepped right out of a panto. Their sergeant, played by Phylip Harries, is a great comic talent and also has a fine singing voice.
With the emphasis so firmly on fun, with brilliantly delivered wit and repartee, potentially dramatic scenes such as the cruel deception of Hero, ably played by Catherine Lamb, are brushed away lightly.
One of the highlights of the show is the verbal jousting of Beatrice and Benedick, enhanced, perhaps, by the fact that Sherry Baines and Philip Bretherton, who play them, are a real-life couple and so enjoy a special rapport.
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