Event review: Much Ado About Nothing by Croydon Operatic and Dramatic Association, performed in Wandle Park, July 2016

By - Wednesday 10th August, 2016

“Don’t believe me just watch (Shakespeare)”, says Andy Ellis

The cast with the mayor of Croydon.
Photo by Tina Onions, used with permission.

Despite having gone to the same school as Shakespeare, I actually knew very little about his comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, and approached this open air production with no preconceptions.

Let’s start with the venue, which was the bandstand in Wandle Park, just a short work from the tramstop of the same name. On arrival we were cheerfully greeted and, having acquired our tickets, we discovered that there was also a very reasonably priced bar whose offerings included the local Wandle beer.

The production by the Croydon Operatic and Dramatic Association ran for four nights only, Wednesday 27th to Saturday 30th July. Seating encircled the bandstand and it occurred to me that the cast would have the challenge of playing to a 360 degree audience. This setting turned out to be superb, though we were not infrequently disturbed by trams rattling past. Fortunately these were not particularly loud. At one point, as dusk fell, I was also distracted by a squadron of herons which flapped languidly by aloft.

Benedick skulked nimbly amongst hedge, flowerbed, tree and the occasional audience member

I digress: back to the performance. There was a perhaps pedestrian start to the opening scene, after which the production gathered and maintained a healthy pace right up to the close. I’ll not dissect the production scene by scene, but mention a few highlights.

In the ‘eavesdropping’ scene, Benedick (Paul Grace) made wonderful use of the stage scenery as he skulked nimbly amongst hedge, flower bed, tree and the occasional audience member. The constables scene at the start of act two was good unsophisticated comedy, hammed up to just the right level. Judging by the audience’s reaction, I was not the only one enjoying it.

Finally, I’m not sure that the bard could have predicted his play ending with a dance routine set to ‘Don’t Believe Me Just Watch‘… but I’m sure that he would have enjoyed it.

The treacherous Borachio was beautifully played by Alfie Bird

Let us examine a few individual performances.

After the play’s slow start, Beatrice (Sarah H. Gordon) acted with a passion undiminished to the final curtain (not that there was a curtain, of course!). Claudio (Owen Moore) gave an intense performance which worked nicely during the ‘darker’ scenes. Paul Grace was splendid in the role of Benedick, and Michael Hall put on a fine comic performance as Dogberry.

It is, however, sometimes the lesser characters whom we overlook. Sarah Block dispatched the role of Margaret with a delightful, almost impish, quality and Tom McGowan gave us an excellent Friar Francis. My favourite, however, was the understated performance of the treacherous Borachio, played beautifully by Alfie Bird.

Costume was plucked from several centuries including the twentieth, endorsing the popular view of the timeless nature of Shakespeare’s works, and a variety of anachronistic props were deployed to varying effect.

However, one scene with the cast wearing sunglasses just did not seem to work. This particular prop appeared to be without purpose, humorous or otherwise. But artefacts including scooters, a mobile phone, a Croydon Guardian (why not a Citizen?), a take-away coffee cup and even a Groucho Marx disguise were relevant and a treat.

A splendid evening’s entertainment with change from a twenty pound note

In terms of competence the cast was pretty much word and prompt perfect. One member did dry up for a second but was rescued to comic effect by his fellows. Being encircled by the audience seemed to be a challenge easily overcome. On the technical side, lighting and sound worked so perfectly as to be unremarkable.

In conclusion: the bandstand provides better seats and a better view than most commercial theatres and a simple but effective stage. There were sterling performances from the cast and evidently much competence backstage. This was a splendid production just a tramride away from home, leaving one not only entertained but also (even including a drink at the interval) with ample change from a twenty pound note.

I look forward to future CODA offerings.

Andy Ellis

Andy Ellis

Descendant of an old Devonshire family, Andy has spent over 25 years of his life in Croydon. He runs a small computer business, is a student at Seishin Ryu Aikido, helps to teach the Body Harmony community fitness classes held in several libraries across the town and, last but not least, dances with the Purley-based North Wood Morris Men.

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