Sat atop a hill in Highgate town, beneath the clouds but throned over London's starry spread sits a gem of Fringe theatre and a pleasure unrestrained.
I'm speaking, somewhat over-grandly, of Helen Crosse and Shooting Star Theatre's 'Much Ado About Nothing', an open-air production that I really can't fault in any way.
This is a rare thing for me to say but this show has been so immaculately planned and produced that it's absolutely what it should be.' Much Ado...' has, woven through its text, an aura of warm summer evenings filled with laughter; an aura perfectly captured in this open-air adaptation (though I do still wish I’d brought a jumper...)
Of course, the choice of an outdoor setting removes makes a complex set impractical. Casting, therefore, is vital to a successful performance and, again, there isn't a weak link to be seen. Every character from James Clifford's Prince John to the usually thankless role of the sexton, performed by Roisin Keogh, is imbued with depth, charm and wit. And whilst the comedy is, in large part, clownish, never once does it tip over into scene-stealing hammishness.
Of course, for 'Much Ado...' particular weight is placed on the comedic power couple Beatrice and Benedick so it's lucky that Shooting Star have two such fine talents as Tabitha Becker-Kahn and Michael Totton.
Totton's Benedick is a thorough pleasure – a loveable buffoon whose self-deprecatory tone stops him from turning into the smug smart-alec that many productions . He has a gift for physical comedy and his rapport with the audience is superb. Likewise Becker-Kahn plows a perfect furrow as Beatrice, equal parts biting wit and touching vulnerability. The interplay between the two is superb and gives the play its heart.
This is not to take away from the achievements of the supporting characters. Joe Sargent is a fittingly besotted Claudio for Emily Grace-Hyland’s sweetness-and-light Hero. Gary Mannion and James Clifford are convincing as light-and-dark brothers Don Pedro and Don John (with sinisterly brutish support from Lewis Richardson’s Borrachio). And Roisin Keogh and Hayley Emma Otway are tremendous fun as Hero’s handmaids, Margaret and Ursula. Even Stewart Marquis’ old buffer Leonato gets his moment in the sun
The smaller characters who come closest to stealing the show, though, are Graham Dron and Peter Steele as Dogberry and Verges. Bless me but I think I may have seen the first couple of pure comic-relief characters who are genuinely funny! Though sometimes verging (heh…) on the OTT, the madcap physical comedy these two bring to the stage is supremely energetic.
With ‘Much Ado…’, Shooting Star have done the impressive thing of making a play which is pure class-A entertainment. All-singing, all-dancing, all good.