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Mucho Ado About Nothing

Nicola Mostyn on the open-air theatre where the great bard meets the great outdoors

Published on June 15th 2007.

Mucho Ado About Nothing

Ever wondered what experiencing a Shakespeare play at The Globe would have been like? Well unless you’ve recently invented time travel or are a fan of past-life regression you’ll have to settle for the next best thing - watching outdoor theatre company Illyria perform Much Ado About Nothing in Walkden Gardens on June 23.

Performing Shakespeare al-fresco is not just a summer novelty for Illyria – they’ve been re-enacting the bard’s works in the open air for 14 years. And, explains production director William Finkenrath, delivering Shakespeare in a public place like Walkden Park captures the essence of these wonderful plays. “This is what Shakespeare at The Globe would have been like,” he says. “The theatre was a major gathering place. In its day, Shakespeare was topical, it was Mike Leigh. And as an actor performing outside, you have no boundaries, you have to shout to reach the audience.”

True, when you mention the words “outdoor” and “theatre”, thoughts may immediately fly to “umbrella” and “pac-a-mac”. But, says Finkenrath, not only are Illyria ready for anything the heavens can throw at them, being at the mercy of the great outdoors is also part of the charm and authenticity of the production.

“There are so many references to the weather in Shakespeare,” he says. “He would have known that performers would be talking about it being a sunny day when it’s actually raining. It’s the same with time - it often happens that you’ll mention it’s six o clock in the play and then a clock will go off telling a completely different time. Then you’ll get the odd bird or peacock. And nowadays, of course, you’ll have planes and things. There are so many different variables.”

And while all fingers will be crossed for a balmy summer evening, rest assured that this lot will be carrying on regardless, as they have done many, many times before: “There’s always something slightly surreal about it when the weather turns bad,” says Finkenrath. “When it starts you get a sea of umbrellas and the rustle of anoraks and if it gets worse the audience all go and shelter under the trees. But, as an actor, there comes a point where you think, I can’t actually get any wetter! One show, there was a full-on thunderstorm and the rain was making so much noise we got a round of applause for every line we delivered.”

It sounds like an unpredictable experience and a tough directing gig, but Finkenrath was an actor with Illyria for ten years so he knows the territory.“I’m used to the working conditions and obviously I’ve got a feel for the show. It is very fast and very frenetic. There are five actors who are playing all the characters. You could sell tickets for what goes on backstage…”

Onstage, you’ll be watching the story of lovers Hero and Claudio who are soon to be married, sparring partners Beatrice and Benedick who love to hate each other, and Don John who plans to foil Hero and Claudio’s wedding plans.

The setting of this production has an Italian and Spanish feel, says Finkenrath, with orange trees on the globe-style stage. All in all, it sounds like the perfect way to spend a summer evening.

And, while Illyria have a bank of stalwart fans who wouldn’t dream of missing a production, the premise of the company’s productions is that they’re accessible, so they encourage anyone and everyone to come along.

“I love it when people come who haven’t seen Shakespeare before – who haven’t even been to a play before,” the director says. “And then, when they see the production, all the pre-conceptions they have about Shakespeare are just blown away.”

Much Ado About Nothing, Walkden Gardens, Sat June 23, doors 6.30pm, 7.30pm. £10/£7. 0161 912 5616. www.watersideartscentre.co.uk

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