By Izzy Boulton
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Opening night at the Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival saw the first run of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing. Hidden in the quiet Sophia Gardens, there was a bar for the audience to enjoy a drink beforehand, as well as food vendors selling freshly cooked burgers. It was a very cosy hub to say the least, with lanterns and coloured lights setting the mood. The venue consisted of tiered seating that ensured a great view wherever people were sat. Furthermore, the seating was numbered and fully covered so there was no risk of getting soaked by the rain. It’s a very professional set-up for a mere £17 a ticket.
As the sun set and the audience settled into their seats, a handful of the cast began setting the scene with a jovial game of cricket on stage. Don John’s (Glyn Thomas) presence in the background foreshadowed the villainous character. The context was set in war-time Wales and there were many Welsh anecdotes which gave it a very authentic feel. It’s a very refreshing experience to watch a theatre production outdoors, it makes a welcome change from dark venues with bright lights. The set was expertly created to be multi-functional and every prop had its place, making it seem much more than a one-set show.
As a fan of Much Ado About Nothing, and having seen Kenneth Branagh’s screenplay multiple times, I found that the cast told the tale so eloquently. Their actions were expressive, making the play more accessible and understandable to those who may struggle with Shakespearean dialogue. The inclusion of musical numbers and live music on the guitar, lute and violin provided some zest and depth to scenes.
The outdoor aspect of the production meant that as the Second Act began, so did nightfall and the stage lights came up and gave the stage an aesthetically pleasing glow of colour. The interactive and brilliantly funny ‘Home Guard’ opening to the Second Act warmed the audience up in preparation for the rest of the show. There was an undercurrent of humour, and laughs rippled amongst the audience throughout the evening.
Without giving too many spoilers – because I would highly recommend buying a ticket and seeing it for yourself – the ending closed the play very amicably with a song performed by the whole cast. There was even some singing in Welsh! It was a very enjoyable evening, taking in some culture and supporting local theatre companies.