Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory



by William Shakespeare


Tobacco Factory Theatres 

16 October - 9th November 2019

To celebrate Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s 20th Anniversary, the company have chosen one of Shakespeare’s best known and much loved works as a staging post in their theatrical journey, a play they last performed in 2007. Much has changed since 1999 but Shakespeare is as relevant now as it ever has been. 

Perhaps one of the the reasons why, is that directors, in many instances, have sought to make the canon of plays relevant to new, young audiences by reflecting contemporary ideas so that the plays do not become stuffy museum pieces but are accessible and relevant to both new and seasoned theatregoers alike.  The latter who are up for new ways of interpreting plays that are often known so well, and appreciated for their depth and richness of dialogue whilst observing clarity and relevance.


Director Elizabeth Freestone in her programme note is upfront enough to state that she is not trying to do a definitive Much Ado but to make a production that speaks to the audience.


Ms Freestone as a director goes on to record that she tries to have a 50/50 gender balance in most productions she directs.


In fact this Much Ado features seven female and six male actors. It is set on the island of Sicily in the town of Messina around a courtyard space which is easily convertible to the locus demands of the play,


The dress code is modern, all Mediterranean white and bright colours and the specific layout of the Tobacco Factory Theatre space works in favour of the in-the-round setting.


Geoffrey Lumb’s Benedick and his adversarial relationship with Dorothea Myer-Bennett’s Beatrice forms a central axis underpinning this production. The scene where Benedick declares his love for Beatrice is worth the ticket money alone as Benedick shows himself not quite able to fully discard the crust of soldering where to reveal any emotional fallibility is a sign of weakness yet Beatrice knows him well enough to respond to his slightly stilted declaration of love with incredulous acceptance tinged with hysterics all carefully mapped out by an actress at the top of her form .


The relationship between Zachary Powell’s Don Pedro and the “Bastard Prince” Don John played by Georgia Frost in this production as his sister is less easy to accept as the soubriquet tittle of Don John is not used in the play as a symbol of bitterness at being denied any acceptance of her birth and it is left to the opening flashsnaps of Don John being stripped of her military rank to suggest the disillusionment which is the cause of so much of the conflict and malicious chicanery devised by her to discredit the family.


That said some performances to savour over the two hour forty minute passage of the play.


Tobacco Factory favourite Christopher Bianchi returns to delight audiences as Leonato, doting uncle to Beatrice, with the part of Ursula, played by Alice Barclay, morphing from attendant to his daughter Hero, played by Hannah Bristow, to that of his wife.


Bethan Mary-James gives a spirited portrayal of Margaret, who is attendant to Hero, treating audiences to some lively musical turns, singing and playing the ukulele.


Alex Wilson as Don John’s henchman Borachio contrasted nicely with his doubling role as the Friar whilst Imran Momen as Claudio companion to Don Pedro and friend to Benedick competed the male cast.


It was difficult to believe in Louise Mai Newbury’s youthful Dogberry with Hannah Bristow’s doubled part of Verges not because they didn’t play well but because of their youthful character persona and appearance which was suggested by building site apparel. Had they been depicted as enthusiastic but rather inept community police constables that might have helped but the problem really lay in an audience’s stereotypical view of the characters as being old and bold.


Nevertheless a spirited and engaging performance of this much loved complex play. Perhaps not a definitive one but an enjoyable one nonetheless.

Review by Richard Jones
Raleigh Road
Bristol BS3 1T
Box Office: 0117 902 0344