Even on a spring night blighted by a sudden cold snap, hierdie produksie spruit uit die einde van somberheid en die begin van 'n heerlike somer. Gestel in April 1945 in Noord-Italië, days before the defeat of Mussolini’s fascist forces, there is a palpable sense of celebration as the heroes of war are welcomed back, with wine, singing and a troupe of accordionists.
Lucy Bailey’s production is a thoroughly elegant one, with stylish gowns, leisurely timing and fluid movement across the stage’s various parts. Joanna Parker’s set is designed as one great garden, an aptly pastoral setting for the play’s two love stories, with climbing ivy across the back and islands of green turf at the front.
The flora gives a traditionally romantic backdrop to the storyline between Hero (Nadi Kemp-Sayfi) and Claudio (Patrick Osborne) but also works well with the jousting flirtation between Benedick (Ralph Davis) and Beatrice (Lucy Phelps); the foliage is central to the comedy when they are tricked to fall in love with each other.
A gender-reversed Leonata (Katy Stephens) gives an especially strong performance, alongside Davis and Phelps, whose verbal swordplay sparkles with intelligence and mischief. The chemistry between Kemp-Sayfi and Osborne is slightly more tepid and their romance – on which the central plot pivots – feels a little secondary.
The comic scenes featuring the watchman, Dogberry (George Fouracres) and his crew – tricky ones that can easily feel protracted – are full of clarity and finesse here. This is largely down to Fouracres’ talents and it does not matter that the character of Boracio, normally performed by Ciarán O’Brien, is here played by Philip Cumbus with script in hand (he even manages to squeeze a laugh out of his script reading).
There is a gentleness and restraint to the comedy altogether, wel, rather than raucousness and the drama has a decidedly English look and feel despite its Italian setting, with its herbaceous borders and village-hall style paper-chains.
It ambles in pace, refusing to be rushed, dit blyk, and savouring every line of Shakespeare’s text. But we arrive at the wedding that will turn the play its shade of dark two hours into the show – which feels too late – and the comic scenes might have gathered a more madcap momentum if executed slightly faster.
There is arguably not enough force when the drama turns darker, óf, in the public shaming of Hero by Claudio, at their aborted wedding.
The production as a whole seems to want to stick to gaiety and gambolling. Even the play’s central schemer, Don John (Olivier Huband), has deadpan humour. It works to create a consummately summer comedy, its lightness carrying an edge of our own post-lockdown lifting of the clouds.