Mid 20th century, sun-drenched Italy was the idyllic setting for this production. The time – the end of a war, signalling celebration and dancing. Caution is thrown to the wind, there’s music in the air, and now that the sexes are re-united: the inevitable sparks and sexual frisson.
As normal life resumes, the rituals of courtship are rekindled with whispering, giggling and flirting behind masks. Most of the tittle-tattle is good-natured & harmless. For Beatrice and Benedick it means the resumption of their unresolved battle of wits.
But there’s an unwanted guest is lurking in the wings, the disgruntled bastard brother; it’s not his party but he’s determined to make others cry. Did he succeed in subverting this comedy for his own end? There are certainly dark moments in this comedy but after nearly tipping into tragedy, it recovers its balance just in time for its final festive reel and love triumphs.
|Albert de Jongh
|Clare Glancy and Lucy Hollis
|Assistant Stage Manager
There’s an air of expectation as news of peace reaches Messina. The war over, Don Pedro and his men return to stay and celebrate victory at Leonata’s house. Benedick continues his banter and bickering with Leonata’s niece, Beatrice. Both publicly declare they will never marry. Claudio falls in love with Hero, Leonata’s daughter. Don Pedro agrees to woo Hero for Claudio, at a party that evening. Don John, Pedro’s bastard brother, plots mischief with his two servants, Borachio and Conrade, to thwart the happy plan.
Guests at the party assume disguises to hide their true identity and amorous intentions. Claudio is told by Don John that Pedro is wooing Hero for himself, but Claudio soon learns that this is not so, and that Hero is indeed his. Further antagonism between Beatrice and Benedick leads Pedro and the others to hatch a plan: to trick them into falling in love with each other. Leonata, Claudio and Don Pedro let Benedick overhear them speak of how much Beatrice loves him. Later, Hero and Ursula let Beatrice overhear their talk about how much Benedick loves her. Both Benedick and Beatrice are forced into admitting their true feelings for the other, and appear love-struck to their friends. Just as all looks poised for all the happy couples to pair off, Don John informs Pedro and Claudio that Hero is unfaithful, and arranges for them to witness her “infidelity” later that night. What they will later see (from afar and in the dark) is, in fact, Borachio wooing Hero’s companion Margaret, calling her ‘Hero’.
The Watch, led by Dogberry and Verges, prepare to carry out their evening duties, with a particular eye on Leonata’s house the night before Hero’s wedding. Borachio is overheard telling Conrade about the plot to disgrace Hero, and they are arrested. As Hero prepares for her wedding, she and her “bridesmaids” Margaret and Ursula continue to tease Beatrice, who hasn’t admitted her new love. Dogberry and Verges begin an interrogation of Borachio and Conrade, but Leonata brushes them aside in the rush of the imminent wedding. Asked by Friar Francis to admit any “impediment” to the marriage, Claudio reveals the ‘truth’ about Hero, backed up by Don Pedro. She faints, and they leave. Leonata harangues the recovered Hero, while she protests her innocence. The priest supports her, and suggests they pretend she has died, hiding her away until the truth is discovered. Left alone, Beatrice and Benedick declare their feelings for each other, and Beatrice makes Benedick vow to kill Claudio for shaming Hero.
Leonata offers to fight Claudio for wronging her innocent daughter. Benedict also challenges Claudio to a duel, as he had sworn to Beatrice, telling them that Don John has fled Messina. The Watch bring in Borachio and Conrade who confess their plot. Don Pedro and Claudio beg forgiveness. Leonata demands that Claudio mourns Hero, and in recompense marries his sister’s daughter – who happens to look exactly like Hero. Claudio agrees, and at the ceremony encounters the real Hero when she is unveiled. Beatrice and Benedick can no longer deny their love for each other and agree to be married too. As news of Don John’s capture is announced: cue music and dance!
Director’s Note: War is over – time to celebrate
As normal life returns in the sunshine and champagne corks pop…
Two very different couples fall in love – but who is really pulling the strings? With dastardly plots, sparkling comedy and some of Shakespeare’s wittiest wordplay, this story of matchmaking and manipulation is the perfect way to celebrate the joy of open-air theatre.
In the aftermath of a fierce conflict, soldier Claudio finds himself on the frontline of a different fight: for the love of Hero. His friend Benedick, on the other hand, is willing to do everything he can to evade affection and meets his match in Beatrice.
There’s magic in the air:
The magical feeling of being outside, in the woods.
The magic of a brilliant comedy about love.
“Amazing! It feels very special to see talented actors in this place. “