Up to now, wandering off into the night from a Trickster Theatre production left one with a chill in the blood, and the hope of not having to make eye contact with artistic director Cellan Scott next time he’s serving at Mello Mello, should he set to plotting your demise.
The Irish actor has been a masterful Macbeth and intense Iago in recent years, and the theatrical body count as the company explored Shakespeare’s tragedies has been high as a result. But collaborators decided this year was time for a change, and so to Trickster’s first tackling of one of the Bard’s comedies. Much Ado was chosen for its dramatic tension and gender politics as much as its laughs (director Rosie Wilkinson talks more about this here), and at once both played to the strengths of and challenged the cast, most of which have worked together many times before.
At the heart of the play is the playful love-hate relationship between Beatrice and Benedick (Zoe Vaux and Cellan Scott), who each swear they will never marry – least of all each other. Running alongside this is the by-the-book courting of uber-chaste Claudio and Hero (Jack Darrell and Elena Stephenson), who plan to wed just hours after they meet, until the plotting of the evil Don Jon and Borachio (Trevor Fleming and Ady Thompson) throws a spanner in the works.
A quirky bit of gender-switching made family patriarch Leonato, Leonata (Angie Waller), and turned bumbling buddy watchmen Dogberry and Verges into a comically inept husband and wife team (Elizabeth Donnelly and Robert Longson).
It all made for a well-realised ensemble piece in which no one character dominated the action. Live music composed for the production was a lovely touch, and there were plenty of background gags and details to spot as the main action unfolded, and the split levels of the Kazimier were put to especially good use during the some of Much Ado’s funniest scenes, where Beatrice and Benedick each hide from their gossiping friends to overhear the conversations that will set them up.
Chris Carney gave a confident and affable performance as prince Don Pedro, whose good-natured manipulating paired off the couples; and, as is always the case, Cellan Scott’s easy delivery and interpretation of Shakespearean prose was a joy to watch – nobody does it quite like him. But Elizabeth Donnelly’s West Country Dogberry nigh on stole the show with an ebullient and captivating comic turn.
Elena Stephenson continued her charming line of wronged heroines to make the heart bleed, taking on Hero after last year’s Desdemona; and Trevor Fleming’s deadpan delivery (and comical Nazi-issue haircut) made for a different take on a classic Shakespearean baddie type.
Ending on a half-curtain call, half courtly dance, not only did Trickster prove they can do comedy, but they do so with such warmth and humour that pretty much the only thing missing from its feelgood finale was an old-school ‘you have been watching’ graphic as the cast took their bows.