This is one of Shakespeare’s subtlest and most moving comedies and the Festival Players’ now familiar all-male approach struck me as not the best one for the play. It can be a revelatory practice but should perhaps be used sparingly. I for one would like to see some women actors in this company again.
Having said that, the perkiness of Jack Cassidy and Tom Giles’ female impersonations, as Beatrice and Hero, assured humour, particularly when they re-appeared as a range of male characters with a whipping-off of skirts and slapping-on of hats.
David Lee-Jones, who impressed as Rosalind in As You Like It last year was a forthright and sympathetic Benedick. My preference is for a more mature couple in these parts but these more youthful sparring opponents certainly sparked off each other with wit and wisdom.
Christopher Mark was a gangly watchman in the Dogberry scenes, contrasting nicely with his upright Claudio. James Scannell’s snarling Don John dispensed with any pretence of nicety, going all out for the character’s dark nastiness.
By no means bringing up the rear, Alan Christopher and Ned Finlay, the oldies in the cast, gave sterling performances as Don Pedro and Leonato, throwing in a winsome Ursula and knockabout Dogberry for good measure.
Michael Dyer’s trademark fleet-footedness as director, not to mention tendency to expunge all text that gets in the way of flight, moved the play along at a cracking pace. The Summer may have been going through a watery blip, and most of the nation may have been glued to the mighty Federer/Nadal clash, but you wouldn’t have known it from the laughter ringing around St Peter’s Square.