John Waterhouse – Playwright and Author

Review of ‘Much ado about nothing’ at Victoria Baths, Manchester on 07.07.22

Time And Again Theatre Company are a Manchester group with a passion for interpreting history in new and relevant ways. It went without saying that when tackling Shakespeare, their production was unlikely to be in modern dress, but choosing a 1950’s seaside environment was certainly outside of the box as was the venue, which was very fitting for the chosen setting.

The 1950’s seaside feel was created with period costumes, hairstyles, and an array of beach paraphernalia such as a sun shield, beach umbrella, deck chairs and postcard stand. A regular supply of ’50’s music completed the atmosphere. The cast were spoilt for choice with performance areas and entrances enabling a lot of movement in true Shakespearian style. The swimming pool admirably suited the setting, the only real suspension of disbelief being the obvious absence of water but then, you can’t have everything!

It was nice to see that whilst the 1950s setting had been meticulously set up, the acting style, delivery and movements were essentially Shakespearian with no attempt made to ‘update’ the text. This was a genuine Shakespeare production as opposed to an adaptation with the only effective change being some same-sex relationships. This did not work too well because having gone to great lengths to create an authentic ’50’s look, openly gay relationships looked clearly out of sync with the period but otherwise everything else was fine.

The large cast of fourteen performed as a well-balance ensemble, energetically taking full advantage of the venue with the show including dance routines and rousing songs, including playing ukulele and even an a-capella version of ‘Unchained Melody’. With so many strong characters, it was hard to pick stand out performances. Laura Crow was charismatic as Benedick, Leah Taylor an impish Borachio, and Jessica Ayes a stylish Dona Joan. Sammy Wells and Catherine Cowdrey were amusing as Margaret and Leonato and Kieran Palmer a sturdy Don Pedro.

Whether intentionally or otherwise, Peter Brassington as Verges and Tim Copper as Dogberry looked remarkably like the two Ronnies (right down to the flat cap) and were an excellent double act. Keziah Lockwood as Imogen gave a good character performance as did Adam Martin Brooks as Claudio. Megan Ralph, Kendal Boardman, Hassan Javed and Megan Crossland all deserve mention for their performances. This was a true ensemble cast who gave a spirited team performance.
Victoria Baths is a gem of Victorian architecture and one of Manchester’s best up-and-coming visitor attractions. With audience seated inside the pool area, the slope towards the deep end providing natural raking of the seats facing an imposing stage area which Time And Again used to the full. The area about the deep end provided a generous performance area, with a very theatrical backdrop of three great marble arches. There was also a large performance space at audience level (with access to the main stage by pool ladders; what else?).

Side entrances led directly up the ornate spectator gallery, enabling the play to be performed on three levels with multiple entrances. The only serious drawback with the venue was the terrible acoustics, making it often hard to hear dialogue, through no fault of any of the cast. It was a pity the cast had not been mic’d up, purely to compensate for the venue.

Time And Again certainly breathed new life into one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies. The setting was used to full advantage and vibrant, colourful period costumes gave a true taste of Shakespeare for a modern audience; a fine and enjoyable production.
Reviewer – John Waterhouse on – 07.07.22
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