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Posts Tagged ‘David Flynn’

I was wondering, not for the first time, why Shakespeare chose this title for his play. It seemed to me dismissive of the piece. Then I found out ‘nothing’ was a play on words with ‘noting’ meaning gossip, rumour, overheard discourse in Shakespeare’s day, which is of course the crux of the play. I was also wondering why it’s so long since I saw it last, fifteen years I think, in the Olivier with Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanamaker. I loved that production as I did this one in the Lyttelton by Simon Godwin.

They’ve chosen to set on the Italian Riviera in the Hotel Messina c.1920’s, which allows set designer Anna Fleischle and costume designer Evie Gurney to produce something visually sumptuous and gorgeous. I’d have been happy just looking at it. They’ve added music, with a live band playing in the style of the period from an upper balcony of the hotel. I don’t know the play well enough to know if it has been cut, but with the addition of music and dancing, coming in at 2.5 hours suggests it has.

Don Pedro and his soldiers have returned from the war, settling in at the hotel run by Leonato & Antonia. Claudio falls for their daughter Hero and the whirlwind romance leads to a wedding in next to no time, but enough time for Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother Don John to spread rumours about Hero’s purity, resulting in her being dumped at the alter. The hilarity and jollity increases the gravity of this story and the malevolence of Don John’s plotting. In another plot, Antonia’s niece Beatrice and returning soldier Benedict continue their sniping, whilst ideas are planted in their respective heads that the other really loves them. In this production, their sniping seems more inferred than expressed (cuts?). Of course, it all ends happily.

Katherine Parkinson makes a fine Beatrice whilst John Heffernan, an unsung stage hero, gives a superb comic performance that makes Benedict a perfect match for her. Here, the relationship comes over more loving than spiky from the outset. Ashley Zhangazha has great presence as Don Pedro and there are delightful comic turns from David Fynn as a brilliant Dogberry and Phoebe Horn as Margaret the maid (a professional stage debut no less). I have to confess I was baffled by the decision to play Claudio with some sort of urban street dialect.

It worked brilliantly as a comedy, yet it brought out the underlying impact of gossip and rumour, which can be tragic (Hero & Claudio) or positive (Beatrice & Benedict). Another summer treat at the NT.

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The Union Theatre continues its role as London’s principal home of British musicals, this time with the world premiere of a show about the military’s treatment of its own in the First World War, together with attitudes to pacifism, homosexuality and class at that time. The show, the production and the performances combine to provide a very beautiful evening indeed.

Harry enlists, even though he’s three years below the minimum age, and finds himself in the trenches with fellow villager Peter and initially reluctant local squire Adam (he’s the recipient of the white feather of the title), immediately promoted to Captain because of his class. Harry’s sister Georgina looks after Adam’s estate in his absence and has to fire Edward, his secret lover who has feigned a disability to avoid the front. Harry is executed for dereliction of duty, considered to be equal to desertion, which sets Georgina on a course to clear his name. When the war is over, Georgina marries Adam but with the ghost of Harry and his sexuality hanging over him it doesn’t prove to be a long or happy affair. Though set primarily in East Anglia immediately before, during and after the war, we do jump forward to later periods right up to 2006, and to other locations. Given the time-hopping and the location changes it’s a remarkably lucid book.

The score contains many lovely songs, some very short, but all driving the narrative forward. I loved the arrangements for keyboards, cello and violin, played so well by MD Dustin Conrad’s trio that the audience stayed put throughout the play-out, and the unamplified vocals were a joy to hear. Tim McQuillan-Wright has created a simple but evocative set and Natasha Payne’s costumes anchor the piece in its period. Hot on the heels of her star turn in Bye Bye Birdie in Walthamstow, Abigail Matthews gives a very different performance of great dignity as Georgina. Adam Davey conveys Adam’s torment between public and private and duty and feelings very movingly. Harry Pettigrew captures the innocent patriotism of Harry and Zac Hamilton the sadness of Edward, who’s love for Adam can never be fully realised. Katie Brennan appears to have moved into the Union, following an outstanding performance in The Spitfire Grill with another terrific one here as Georgina’s friend Edith.

I was captivated by this lovely show. Andrew Keates had developed and directed it and co-wrote the book and he’s done a great job. Unmissable.

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