Review written with input from two of my friends who saw it with me, Lottie and Amy. Their opinion is reflected here too.
Title: "Richard III" and "Much Ado About Nothing"
Title: "Richard III" and "Much Ado About Nothing"
Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Emma Sampson (Richard III), Nicola Samer (Much Ado)
Performed by: The Handlebards
Major cast: Liam Mansfield, Matt Maltby, Paul Hillar, and Stanton Plummer-Cambridge
Seen at: The Museum of the Order of St. John
Review: In Richard III, Richard, Duke of Gloucester murders his way to the throne and doesn't stop once he's there. In Much Ado About Nothing, plots to set up and break up pairs of lovers happen with varying degrees of success. The Handlebards, four actors who cycle with set, props and scenery to wherever they're going, are taking these shows on a tour.I was incredibly looking forwards to seeing these. The comedy of the Handlebards that I'd seen before, plus one of my favourite shows (Much Ado) plus one of the plays I knew had many murders (Richard III) all combined to make me think I must see these shows somehow.
Both shows are imbued with the Handlebard style-brightly colour coding the actors, easy to remove and/or alter accessories, inventive ways of holding props to symbolise characters on stage when a scene needs more than four people on stage, audience participation, and epic levels of multiroling, energy, and enthusiasm.
The four actors are all new to being part of the Handlebards, and work together well. Liam and Paul play lovers in both plays (Richard and Anne and Benedick and Beatrice) and in both play off each other well, especially in Much Ado when both believe the other to be in love with them. All four of them have an extensive range of physical movement and voices and facial expressions that differentiate the characters, which is necessary when most of them are learning about 20 characters each.
The set is a backdrop and some popup tents. It's simple for practicality and when it does what it's meant to, it goes well with both plays (especially when it's being worn by Gainsby and Benedick).
The music was good. In Richard III, Richard's theme music is overdone in part one of the play (the same music and choreography each time means it loses its effect), or maybe it seems that way due to the fact the theme was the only music in part one; part two had much more musical accompaniment (and occasional musical feature) so the recurrences seemed more integrated. It is especially performed well on a mop bass with jazz-style singing. Much Ado About Nothing has a lot more music, which is used throughout for scene transitions, comedy, and where the script calls for singing. They all sing and play their instruments well.
On to each performance specifically. I only knew that Richard III was about a lot of murder to become king; and I was very pleased with how easy it was to follow. I think the multiroling helped with this a lot. With most Histories, I often see most the cast being men who are all named after parts of England and who all look the same and are very easy to mix up. but here, the huge differences between characterisation made it easy to tell what's happening. Despite all the murder, it's played pretty much as a full-scale comedy- timing, music, Richard's movements, the insistance that Richmond was French, the murder weapons.... oh and the ghosts. That was a most wonderful scene involving lots of bedclothes and wooooooing and the opposite of what you'd expect the souls of the dead haunting their murderer. The whole audience was laughing throughout this scene, and the whole play. It was a brilliant atmosphere and a great night.
Much Ado about Nothing was sadly not as good as I was hoping. It may be because we all studied it and loved it and know it, that it was easy for us to notice little slips and where they cut or shortened some of our favourite bits, such as Beatrice's "double heart for his single one" line, and Benedick's listing of what he wants in a woman, which relates to his longer speech after his tricking scene. I am also used to seeing this performed at pretty much breakneck speed (like at their Richard III speed), and this felt comparatively slow in parts. I think what they had in mind would have been brilliant, but the fact that some things just didn't go as planned, such as scene changes and parts of the set starting to fall down, got in their way. They really did do their best at whatever the circumstances threw at them-Beatrice's temporary deafness being a highlight of their improv. In addition, the Watch scenes were good, I loved Stanton's ballet-dancing Claudio, Matt made an absolutely adorable Hero, and Liam's face of complete what the heck after being told to kill Claudio was a wonderful interpretation.I think as they perform more, they'll get used to what they want to do and they'll get quicker, and I'd like to see Much Ado later on in the run if I can.
All this said, this is a great company. They're learning not only two plays, but multiple roles within the plays, plus cycling to wherever they need to go. Also, we did see them on the first public performances. The overall style of their acting, the huge comedy/comedic potential, the running gags both within plays and across plays, and the sheer amount of energy and connection they have with each other and the audience make the well worth coming to see.
Overall: A high strength 4.5 tea to Richard III and a solid strength 3 tea to Much Ado About Nothing averages out to Strength 4 tea to a set of shows that you should catch if you can.
Links: Company Website