The official opening night production of the Festival’s 60th season featured knock out performances by Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay as Benedick and Beatrice. Both actors have the ability to speak Shakespeare’s words so clearly that you don’t miss a word of the very funny dialogue. Both can say as much with a glance or a wink as most actors need paragraphs to convey. They can be serious, but they are also very funny. (As I write this I have an image of the two of them as Petruchio and Kate – that would be a cast worth seeing!)
The production lived up to Straford’s highest standards, with no weak moments or performances. it was thoroughly enjoyable and well worth the standing ovation it received. And yet, as a production it was not particularly memorable. it was set in Brasil but somehow the setting had very little impact. It could have been anywhere vaguely Latin flavoured – Spain, Italy Portugal – the music, sets and costumes did not have enough impact to make it memorable.
Outstanding performances by Juan Chioran, Bethany Jillard, James Blendick and the rest of the cast contributed to the high quality of the production. i did have some concerns about Gareth Potter’s Don John. He was withdrawn to the point of almost disappearing and you had to wonder why anyone listened to his slanders.
It was a great start to the season and a demonstration that a performance can be worth a standing ovation even if it will be forgotten soon. Of course, the audience on a first night tends to be full of fans, but to suggest that had an impact on the reaction would be cynical. Some times fans are the harshest critics, but this audience was definitely enjoying the whole evening.