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Luke Sproule is transported to sunnier, if more authoritaraian, climes by OSC’s striking summer production

There are few, if any, Shakespeare plays that are anything less than timeless, but none more than Much Ado About Nothing.

It is fitting, therefore, that Oxford Shakespeare Company has returned to the work 15 years after producing it for its first ever show. Until August 19 the gardens of Wadham College host the madcap confusion, double-meaning and lustful passion of the final days of Benito Mussolini’s reign, set, as it is, in Messina, Sicily, in 1943.

The fascists are on the back foot and Christopher Laishley’s Don Pedro has a justifiable swagger as he and his band of resistance fighters return from the front. Peter Rae’s portrayal of his brother, Don John, is delightfully villainous, with a fascist uniform adding an even more sinister edge. Director Nicholas Green is far from a stranger to Shakespeare and it shows and his cast is almost as interesting off ‘stage’, elsewhere in the garden, as on.

Ivy Corbin’s Beatrice – who works so hard to be disinterested in love when wooed by Benedick – races past in the background to try and hear more as Margaret and Hero start to hatch their plan to push the couple together. The performance is also a professional debut for Robyn Sinclair who shines as a magnificent Hero.

It is not just Hero’s lovestruck portrayal that works perfectly, but her performance of Sigh No More, described by Green as the most beautiful song the company and Nicholas Lloyd Webber have produced. There is a professional stage debut too for Samuel Simmonds as Claudio.

But above all Christopher Jordan’s Benedick is a joy- sometimes cynical, sometimes besotted but always comically brilliant.

As with any Shakespeare there is plenty of joy to be derived from the little things and unique interpretations. Beatrice covering herself in ivy and following Margaret and Hero around the garden to eavesdrop is one wonderful example, Benedick haplessly serving Leonarto, Claudio and Don Pedro wine in order to do the same is another.

Much Ado About Nothing is a play that thrives on the energy of its cast and this production is no exception. It is, from start to finish, a triumph.

5/5

Tickets from oxfordshakespeare.co