"fleet-footed fun in 40s Hollywood"
by Michael Gray for remotegoat on 02/03/18

Dorsey and Korngold on the sound-track ? We’re in 40s Hollywood for this entertainingly innovative comedy. There’s a distant hint of a tinsel-town backlot on the further shore.
Shakespeare’s story is more or less intact. We’re in Navarre Studios, where we meet first its mogul, “King” Navarre, in white bathrobe [a costume detail this show shares with the similarly abridged Much Ado round the corner at Shakespeare’s Globe]. He’s cracking down on sexual shenanigans in the studio, hence the decision to banish women … But he reckons without the desirable daughter of the boss of rival studio, Aquitaine.
It’s all stylish good fun, with cherishable performances from a young cast of seven. The Nine Worthies are gone, thank goodness, as is Holofernes and the well-named Dull. The obscure endpiece is cut, with the song, leaving Berowne to conclude, aptly, with “That’s too long for a play.” Parson “I fancy a biscuit” Nathaniel survives only to read one of the many letters which drive the intrigue.
The young gentlemen of Navarre – dapper dressers with Clark Gable moustaches - are Angus Castle-Doughty as a nice-but-dim Longaville [he’s also the boy Moth and Sir Nathaniel] and Joshua Jewkes’ engaging narcissist Berowne: he speaks the verse with limpid simplicity and a wicked twinkle in his eye. Alec Bennie also plays a lord, on top of his neat double as “King” Navarre and the comedy Spaniard Don Armado.
The chic, giggling girls who besiege Navarre are Julie Cheung-Inhin’s haughty Princess, Michelle Barwood as a feisty Rosaline, and Jordan Leigh Harris, who combines Maria with pert dairy-maid Jacquenetta, the erstwhile amour of the clown Costard, memorably played here in a Bud Flanagan outfit by Nicholas Delvalle, who is also the gossipy go-between Boyet.
Audience interaction always plays well at this address – though made harder by a sadly “unpeopled house”, depleted by the snow. So the eavesdroppers hide amongst the blankets, and there’s a bizarre foot-fetish moment with a bemused young lady in the front row. All the Bard’s best gags are in place – Costard’s remuneration, and of course the Muscovites, hilariously done with silly walks and joke-shop Groucho disguises.
There are many such delights in Marnie Nash’s fleet-footed production: letters are read with what Feste calls ‘vox’, lovers sigh as their paths cross, a lipstick kiss lightens the sombre mood of the play’s ending, and there’s a cheeky updating of Katharine’s ‘calf’ joke in Act V.
The updating doesn’t always make sense, but we are happily caught up in the contagious fun of wordplay, comic characters and romantic confusions.

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