"war-thoughts and wooing on Bankside"
by Michael Gray for remotegoat on 08/04/16

The merry war waged between Beatrice and Benedick is played out as the men march back from a real war to Messina. Last year we had Edward Bennett coming home to Charlecote's military hospital after The Great War, and this year Douglas Rintoul's début in Hornchurch celebrated VE Day in an English country house.

It's the 40s option on Bankside, too, in Alex Pearson's delightful, deft 90-minute version. Morse code, aircraft, machine guns on the sound track as we walk in to see a stepladder, bunting and uniformed figures far across the water.

Churchill reminds us of the foe's unconditional surrender, Harry Boyd's Messenger reassures us that the losses were few “and none of name”. Kit Smith's kindly Leonato first mentions the “skirmish of wit” at the heart of this clever comedy.

The sparring, the gulling and the war-like wooing are enjoyably done by Rhiannon Sommers' bomber-jacketed Beatrice and Adam Elliott's boyish Benedick.

His eyes are expressive, his business as he eavesdrops is inventive, working his way along the back row of the audience. “Love me? Why?” is touching in its simplicity. “The world must be peopled!” has him suggestively tucking in his shirt.
Her eavesdropping is done at cricket-pitch distance, across the water, which also serves well for the chamber window and the funeral procession with sparklers for torches. Sommers gives a Beatrice of infinite variety, from the still small voice which admits “I love you” to the barbed quips and the urgent “Kill Claudio”.

The other couple are Genie Kaminski's warm, charming Hero and Clark Alexander's intense Scottish Claudio.

The wedding is well staged. Claudio's rejection of Hero is brilliantly underplayed at first – the rejected ring drops on the Rose's floor-boards – and it's hard to tell whether he's in earnest or no. Only later comes the incontinent violence.

The reduction brings some bonuses: Claudio composing his funeral sentences as a soliloquy, Dogberry's watch much pared, with the actors thinly disguised with duffel coats. The costumes are evocative of the period, the stylish uniforms have a dash of Ruritania in the detail.

Excellent music [Robert Hazle], some recorded, like the brilliant revellers number – nine dancers hoofing it on this tiny stage, surely a first [Ian Hathway the choreographer] – some live, like the lovely Sigh No More with guitar and clarinet.

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