Much Ado About Nothing
"Thank you for a great, memorable afternoon - beautifully spoken, clear and hugely enjoyable. Bravo!" Kenneth Branagh, Actor
"Congratulations to the cast - a splendid evening!" June Whitfield, Actress
"These productions are powered by a vigour and enthusiasm." The Sunday Times, Culture magazine
"The ancient Abbey echoes with the sounds of sonnets, songs and soliloquies, the Leeds Shakespeare Festival - now in its tenth term - has provided thousands of reluctant theatregoers with an exciting and accessible introduction to William's work.
It seems that when Shakespeare's texts are snatched from beneath dusty proscenium arches, loaded with emphasis and expression and thrust into an historic outdoor arena, new audiences are willing to give them a go.
Much Ado About Nothing takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of laughter, tragedy, melodrama and farce. As is the norm for a Shakespeare romantic comedy, pernicious plotting and devious deeds knock love and friendship out of their stride.
Director Williamson has clearly worked with the actors to ensure each truly understands the meaning and significance of their lines. As a result the performers are highly animated and expressive, which sends waves of comprehension rippling through the rows.
The verbal sparring of eventual suitors Benedick (Robert J Williamson) and Beatrice (Penny Woodman) is a highlight of this charming, pruned and pacey production.
Woodman is wonderfully cutting and caustic, while Williamson directs himself to great effect. He handles his character's transition from flighty bachelor to doting lover with skill and subtlety, cleverly eking out every last drop of comedy from the part.
A notable mention must go to Matthew Roland-Roberts, who was playfully booed at the curtain call for his blank-eyed and sinister portrayal of Don John. In the relatively minor role of Antonio, Christopher Robert has a wonderful stage presence and shakes the Abbey to its foundations with one passionate tirade.
But it's the bumbling antics of local police officers Dogberry (Wayne Cater), Verges (David Patterson) and the Watch (Michael Gabe) that really brings the audience to life. The slapstick performances of Cater, Patterson and Gabe certainly elicit a mountain of mirth.
Borachio (a solid performance from Richard Morrison) shuffles under an archway and utters, "Stand thee close, then, under this pent-house, for it drizzles rain." As it was bucketing it down with rain when the line was delivered, the comment prompted a roar of delight from the audience.
The costumes adorning the male and female characters are in sharp contrast; resplendent First World War military uniforms and classy tailoring versus flimsy and simple white dresses. This serves to emphasise the way the men command the women in this play, although Beatrice - who is dressed in markedly more elegant attire - certainly gives her male counterparts a good run for their money.
The highly talented actor-manager will be concentrating on producing and directing in the future. A good reason, therefore, to dig out your warm clothes, pack an umbrella, cock a snoot at the weather and catch him and this enjoyable production while you can." Syndicated Review - Alex Waddington
"The R. J. Williamson Company is a heroic enterprise - one of the best touring companies in the UK that regularly performs Shakespeare plays outdoors - and is bursting with talent.
The sort of energy and irreverence appropriate to a Shakespeare comedy. The scenes of the riff-raff and menials are authentically hilarious and exhilarating. All the ensemble acting is wonderful, particularly Sir Toby (Christopher Robert), an enjoyable mixture of grandiloquent yet friskily rambunctious, wonderful Wayne Sleep as the Fool, and Wayne Cater as Malvolio, strutting around like a tiny, penguin-pompous Tory counsellor, the sort of bully who is over-compensating for being tiny and ostracized, and is both paranoid and credulous. When the whole cast join the Fool in singing the last song, we are left nostalgic for Illyria."
J. O'Grady, Times Online
"The great Wayne Sleep as Feste, Olivia's fool, catches the ultimate sadness and despair of the jester. Sleep delivers his songs with just a tinge of plangency and dances his way into the hearts of the audience." Wharfedale Times
"The British Shakespeare Company's Shakespeare festivals have now become an established part of the Summer calendar and once again they showed why. This year they treated us to a comic double bill with old favourites "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Twelth Night or, What You Will". Joining the company this year were Norman Pace, Carly Hillman (from Eastenders) and the return of Wayne Sleep.
"Much Ado About Nothing" saw company leader Robert J Williamson reprising his irresistible performance as the classic buffoon Benedick. Penny Woodman played his feisty foil, Beatrice and Norman Pace took on the role of the original dim policeman, Dogberry. Once again, the British Shakespeare Company deliver the comic elements of the play without any pretension or bowdlerisation, and also have the sufficient power to carry off the dramatic scenes with suitable effect.
However, the real gem this year is "Twelfth Night". Rising star Siwan Morris makes a sensational impression as Viola and RSC/National theatre actor Wayne Carter turns Malvolio into a real 'little big man' with his short stature and lofty voice. Anna Delchev also sparkles as the cheeky Maria and Wayne Sleep is delightful as the fool Feste. The production brims over with energy, wit and on-stage chemistry. I've seen quite a few variations of "Twelth Night" now but this one is definitely outshines the rest. No-one can perform Shakespeare's comedies like the British Shakespeare Company." Simon Netherwood, Alive.co.uk
"This is a company of professional actors whose versatility and sense of timing, drama and comedy produce scintiliiating performances." Worthing Herald
Scenes from Twelfth Night
Wayne Sleep and Norman Pace