There was Much Ado About Nothing in Jesmond Dene, Newcastle this week when Heartbreak Productions brought their energetic ensemble style to this Shakespearean comedy of mistaken identities and thwarted intentions.
Directed by Paul Chesterton, who has recently been appointed to Head of Acting at the Bristol Old Vic, this new version of the Bard’s classic, is a delightful romp through the lives of our pairs of star crossed lovers Beatrice and Benedick, and Hero and Claudio.
The play is set in the round defined by ropes of fairy lights, which come on as darkness descends. Fairy lights are always a good idea in my opinion, and they add to the fairground feel along with the fairground games stationed around the space.
Heartbreak always have a type of framing device for their shows and this time it is set just after World War I, when there is a fundraising effort for the war wounded and the sister of a wounded soldier is organising the event.
Fundraising was of vital importance throughout the First World War with money and gifts in kind gathered through a variety of means. By the end of the war 20m had been raised and spent on hospitals, medicine, clothing, grants and aftercare for the sick and wounded.
Following the outbreak of war the British Red Cross formed the Joint War committee and set out to tackle the aftermath of this terrible conflict. They inspired a feeling of confidence and gave the opportunity for everyone to get involved and help. Agatha Christie was one of the most famous Red Cross volunteers.
Meanwhile back in the world of the early Elizabethan Rom Com, Benedick is professing his extreme distaste for the affliction of love and the institution of marriage while actually being quite in love with the feisty Beatrice. It’s the equivalent of pulling the hair of the girl you say you hate but really have a crush on, and Beatrice is equally adamant about her indifference to bothersome Benedick.
Meanwhile Claudio is head over heels in love with Hero (but only if she is an untouched maid) It proves to be somewhat conditional love in this case, as when a rumour reaches Claudio that she has been enjoying ‘the heat of a luxurious bed,’ the innocent girl is promptly scorned and dumped.
The plot is somewhat contrived as Shakespeare’s comedies generally are, but suffice to say it all comes right in the end and happiness is restored to the couples. It’s one of those plays where you just need to abandon worrying about working out the precise meaning of what people are saying, and just enjoy the characters and the situation and the fun. Oh yes, and the Ukulele playing.
It’s a very strong cast, who incidentally transform into Heartbreak’s second show, The Railway Children as well.
Faye Lord is the beautiful innocent Hero, captivating everyone as she floats about the stage, smiley and serene in her beautiful coral dress. She looks convincingly devastated when dumped by the fickle Claudio at the altar! A modern woman may not have forgiven similar behaviour quite so easily.
Bryony Tebbutt gives a strong performance as Beatrice – arch and opinionated. She also seems to do quite a lot of drinking.
Shaun Miller is Benedick, engaging and ardent by turn and George Naylor is a dashing and deluded Claudio, and he also gets to wear a dress and flirt a lot, as one of the other comic characters.
All the Heartbreak actors are superb at engaging with the audience before, and during the performances and they bring lightness and a sense of fun to every show, which makes the whole event feel like a party from start to finish!
The Heartbreakers turn up with blankets and food and drink. Some even bring tables and a vase of flowers and others choose to celebrate their birthdays at the show!
I liked the set design and the continual movement and the use of different accents and music and dancing – they all add an extra dimension to a rich and entertaining evening. The final song, ‘man is a giddy thing,’ just about sums up this play. I love the Heartbreak experience, and I’m sure you would too – so put your bugle in your Baldrick and come on down to Jesmond Dene for a theatrical treat on this long hot summer of 2018! Check out venues, shows and tickets here Heartbreak Productions