Shakespeare's Godfather

Ruby Thomas as Beatrice and Jordan Waller as Benedick

Oxford undergraduate and producer Jessica Campbell invited me to the Oxford University Dramatic Society's fantastic production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing at Southwark Playhouse.  This was one stop on an international tour from the creme de la creme of OUDS, produced by the legendary Thelma Holt CBE, in association with the Cameron Mackintosh Foundation.  They have already been to The Bodleian in Oxford and the Dell in Stratford Upon Avon and will be going to Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud and then to Japan's Saitama Arts TheatreBugei and the Kanagawa Arts Theatre, Kaat.

The OUDS have produced some of our best actors including Rowan Atkinson, Imogen Stubbs, Sir John Gielgud and the multi-talented Richard Curtis. I think there will be some members of this troupe who we'll definitely see again too!

The creative team were also all from Oxford, including brilliant direction from Max Gill.  Max had cleverly transfered the play to the mafia torn Sicily of the 1950's. Jay Anslow's atmospheric soundtrack was a tapestry of old Italian songs which could have been straight out of the Godfather, interlaced with more contemporary pieces, which reflected the emotions of the characters and heightened our awareness.  I spoke to the set and costume designer Anna Lewis, who told me that the set had to be carefully designed for transport to Japan.  She had dealt with the restraint expertly, creating exactly the right environment for Gill's gangster world, and the costumes were also fabulous!

The actor who stood out for me in this energetic and exciting production was Ruby Thomas, who played her viciously merry Beatrice with the expertise of a seasoned star.  Her sensual husky voice reminded me of a young Samantha Bond - no surprise that the audience hung on her every word.   Jordan Waller, her Benedick, gave a wild passionate performance - but why is it that they both believe the gossip woven around them and begin to fall in love ?  Oh how frail we mortals are!  Other performers of note were Rhys Bevan (Dogberry) who had impeccable comic timing, the innocence of Jessica Norman as Hero and the completely unmannered freshness of Jeremy Neumark-Jones as Claudio.  I was also very impressed by Matt Gavan's interpretation of Don Pedro.

Beatrice, Benedick and Claudio

Thelma Holt's Shakespeare tour is an annual event for the OUDS.  What a wonderful experience for these young actors and creatives - not only to be able to make a piece of exciting Shakespearean theatre but also to tour it, with that added opportunity of taking it to Japan.

The next stop on the tour is The Mill Studio at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford from 5th to 8th September, so do try and catch it before it goes off to Japan.  A link to Guildford, to buy tickets can be found here.

I leave you with Thelma Holt's words:

"I believe that in these tours we see British theatre's true insurance policy, the proof of a generation of great directors, producers and acting talent waiting in the wings."


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