Would Benedick and Beatrice get it together? Would Hero be proved innocent? Would Director Mike Poole’s bold decision to set the play in 1945 work? To the third, the answer was a resounding yes.
Resplendent uniforms, 1940s ladies’ fashions and hairstyles graced the stage and banished all confusion - if that’s possible with Shakespeare. Certainly audiences were not deterred. Despite two performances being rained off, overall attendance was higher than any other in the last 13 years and Friday night’s audience topped 200.
Anthony Lusted and Natascia Mazzucato, finely-matched as Benedick and Beatrice, sparred waspishly in denial of their mutual love. Lawry Rhodes as Leonato and Ian Saxton as Don Pedro, gave distinguished performances. Carey Poole as Claudio and Evie Clifford as Hero excelled as their engagement was shattered by manifestly evil plotter Don John (Lewis Ikin) and his henchman Borachio (Rick Baker). John Brown as Dogberry made a wondrously inept Watch leader, with Eric Stevens and Chris Whittle as dim-witted Verges and Seacole. Eamonn McKenna and Stuart Miller rounded off a shambolic crew. Sandra Bunday, Robert Martin, Mike Poole, Clare Sayers and Jo Turnbull completed the talented cast. Among many original touches were the radio announcer who perfectly established the context, and the close-harmony female singing group Quintasia who embellished proceedings with lively renditions of post-war hits, and gave an entertaining interval. Enchanting surroundings and an elegant stage setting completed the effect.