Review: Much Ado About Nothing at Royden Park, Wirral

Posted on 27 June 2015
By Chris High
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A lot of people may snobbily look down on amateur dramatics and the productions that are put out on display but, let’s be fair, you don’t get to last as a company for 51 years like Wirral’s The Hillbark Players have and turn out dross, far from it. Indeed, it would be more than fair to say that many a “professional” company would do well to have achieved what Hillbark have managed here even if they had all day and all night in which to do so, which the Hillbark performers, technicians, directors, costumiers and make up exponents do not.

The company’s 2015 Shakespearian offering is Much Ado About Nothing and, trust me, there is nothing remotely “amateur” about it in the slightest and you are all but guaranteed to come away smiling from ear to ear.

So, what of the experience of sitting in one of Wirral’s finest public parks at dusk, settling down to watch one of the Bard’s most wittily written and thoroughly absorbing comedic plays?

Idyllic might seem a bit twee, but that is the first word that comes to mind as the audience quickly become entranced for a full three hours, especially as the sun wanes so that the natural setting combined with that created by Nigel and Gareth Cooper and the addition of the quite superb costumes designed by Paula Cain, almost become characters in their own right.

The performances are simply wonderful and in particular those of Pauline Garland who’s Beatrice is so full of acrimonious spite and spittle at the play’s beginning and so utterly confused by its end, that she could not help but become endeared to by the audience from the moment she steps onto the beautifully manicured lawn-stage. As Claudio, Daniel Short makes his character blossom to full maturity superbly, whereas Andy Jordan’s wicked Don John is so utterly convincing in carrying out his foul, envy fuelled deeds it is quite disappointing not to see him get his just deserts.

Special note should also be made of Carys Cooper’s Leonata, predominantly for her impassioned denouncement of her daughter Hero, which has the audience holding their breath waiting for fire and brimstone to truly come forth.

Yet without question, the stand out player of this particular love match has to be Stuart Rathe who’s cocksure, brazen, quick witted and devil-may-care interpretation of Benedick is an absolute, joyous hilarity when necessary and disturbingly and deadly earnest when called for.

Added to this, his main speech towards the end on this occasion was initially drowned out by a nearby wedding’s firework display beginning just as he was about to speak. That he managed to hold it together for several minutes, adlibbing and dancing away as the booms and whistles exploded in the night sky, is testament to his natural acting skills, enthusiasm and dogged determination that the show will always go on.

It would be true to say every actor involved adds little layers to this production of Much Ado About Nothing and for that Martin Riley’s superb direction should be saluted from the highest rooftop, loud and clear enough to drown out any exploding rocket, banger or starburst for this was a true Shakesperian experience, a fitting acknowledgment of the Great Man’s intentions when writing it and, above all, a hugely entertaining night out at a fabulous – if unusual – venue.

Much Ado About Nothing
Royden Park, Frankby
June 22 – June 27
Producers: Hillbark Players
Director: Martin Riley
Cast Includes: Daniel Short, Carys Cooper Charles Riley, Pauline Garland, Stuart Rathe, Andy Jordan, Simon Garland, Bethany D’Avincourt, Geraldine Maloney Judge
Running Time: 3 hours:
PR Rating: ***** Exquisite
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