Much Ado About Nothing

Performed at Rowntree Park, York, from 29 June – 9 July 2011
and at The Dell, Stratford on 16 July 2011.

From The York Press: “The York Shakespeare Project transports you back in time to the summer of 1945. Set in rural Yorkshire in the immediate aftermath of the 2nd World War, this rare theatrical treat is not to be missed. York’s Rowntree Park provides the perfect setting for Much Ado About Nothing – still one of Shakespeare’s most popular and enduring romantic comedies.

Soon-to-be-married lovers Hero and Claudio conspire with Don Pedro to set a ‘lover’s trap’ for the resolutely unmarried Benedick and Beatrice, his favourite sparring partner. Meanwhile, the evil Don Jon plots to break up Hero and Claudio’s wedding by accusing Hero of infidelity. Will he succeed and will Benedick and Beatrice ever admit their true feelings for one another?

Featuring iconic songs from the golden post-war era and period dance numbers, this production was a memorable evening’s entertainment in one of York’s most idyllic settings.

The production is directed by YSP debutant Paul Taylor-Mills. Paul is a graduate of Bath Spa University with a BA in Performing Arts. He has worked on a variety of productions ranging from large scale musicals to a show with Britt Ekland at the Edinburgh Festival. He has taken productions of Shakespeare to the Minack Theatre, Cornwall, to The Dell in Stratford-upon-Avon, and has toured North America with a production of The Comedy of Errors.

Much Ado promises to be fun for Paul’s cast. “There’s mischief, naughtiness and fruitiness in this play,” he says. “We’re embracing the Forties’ style! All the men are in soldiers’ uniforms and we’ve really gone to town on the girls’ costumes, because we’re just using the natural amphitheatre for the staging. The trees and bushes offer all sorts of possibilities for mischief!” Why set it in 1945, Paul? “By placing the piece firmly at the end of World War Two I aim to heighten the themes of desire and passion which run through the play,” he reasons. “Thanks to the years of war and hardship, there’s a natural sense of life being more precious, and this sense of urgency between the male and female characters fuels their passions.” ‘ ”


Beatrice:   Gemma Sharp
Benedick:   Sebastian Hulkkov
Claudio:   Alan Flower
Hero:  Anna Rogers
Don Pedro:  Niraj Dave
Leonato:  Harold Mozley
Don John:  Ben Sawyer
Borachio:  Damian Freddi
Conrad:  Daniel Wilmot
Dogberry:  Tom Straszewski
Verges:  Greg Sellers
Seacole:  Matt Simpson
Antonio: Sam Valentine
Balthasar:  Robin Sanger
Ursula:  Anjali Vyas-Brannick
Messenger/The Boy:  James Osman
Friar Francis:  Nick Jones
Margaret:  Lizzie Marshall
Andrews Sisters:  Esme Wise, Anna Czornyj
NAAFI Girls:  Lisa Valentine, Clancy McMullan, Andrea Zambakides
Flautist:  Peter Marsh

Production Team:

Director:  Paul Taylor-Mills
Asst. Director:  Matt Simpson
Stage Manager:  Megan Middleton
Musical Director:  Jodie Oliver
Choreographer:  Jodie Lee-Wilde
Production Design:  Andrew Beckett
Costume Design:  Zoe Groves
Mask-maker:  Julia Atkinson
Lighting Design:  Karen Millar
Sound Design:  Paul Hepworth
Publicity Co-ordinator:  Rachel Alexander-Hill
Publicity Designer:  Andy Curry
Photographer:  Mike Oakes
Video:  Matt Pattison
FOH Manager:  Jeremy Muldowney

In The York Press review, Charles Hutchinson wrote: ‘Paul Taylor-Mills is so busy that the young director had to leave the opening night of Much Ado before the close to return to London.

‘Birmingham-born Paul has just spent a year as Cameron Mackintosh’s assistant on Hair in the West End and Les Miserables at the 02 Arena and is now preparing the European premiere of My Big Gay Italian Wedding in Victoria.

‘In his words, “it had to be something exciting for me to come up to York for the past two months”, and given his musical pedigree, you won’t be surprised that song and dance, as well as soldiers’ uniforms and NAAFI girl garb, have made their way into his ebullient reinvention of Shakespeare’s comedy.

‘He has swapped Messina, Italy, for Yorkshire and references to Pocklington, Poppleton, Pontefract and Harrogate. The setting is York in the Summer of 1945, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, whose end is signified by the radio bulletin that opens the show in the evening air of Rowntree Park after a round of Andrews Sisters warm-up songs.

‘This announcement is the cue for revelry, the park’s raised amphitheatre bedecked by designer Andrew Beckett in Union bunting and balloons as the backdrop for Roll Out The Barrel and Knees Up Mother Brown, sung lustily to the accompaniment of recorded music, although an amplified piano would have been more aesthetically pleasing.

‘Much Ado About Nothing is one of those meddling comedies where the whiff of liberation, the urgency of desire and the need for mischief are the spur for misbehaviour, mucking about in other people’s business and the path to true love being no straighter than Spaghetti Junction.

‘Taylor-Mills has relocated scenes from the house to the garden to enhance the sense of great escapism after the war, while Rowntree Park’s bushes and trees compliment the themes of deception and eavesdropping.

‘They’re all at it! Soon-to-be-married lovers Claudio (Alan Flower) and Hero (Anna Rogers) are conspiring with Don Pedro (Niraj Davé) to set a lover’s trap for the will-they-ever-marry? Benedick (Sebastian Hulkkov) and Beatrice (Gemma Sharp). Ben Sawyer’s Don John, meanwhile, is scheming to ruin Claudio’s big day.

‘Taylor-Mills directs these shenanigans with boldness, cheekiness, a quick tempo and a dash of cabaret camping, courtesy of the music, although Lizzie Marshall’s rendition of We’ll Meet Again is a moving moment amid the fun and fluff.

‘Like the director, Sebastian Hulkkov is making his YSP debut and this East Yorkshireman makes his mark both with his very appealing voice and a manner that crosses Hugh Laurie with Richard E Grant. You’ll surely be seeing more of him.

‘Gemma Sharp impresses once more, not least in making her every move count, often at pace, while Anna Rogers is a striking Hero, and among the comedic players, there is splendidly daft interplay between Tom Staszewski’s Dogberry (here transformed into a Home Guard jobsworth) and Greg Sellers’ Verges in a cameo as manic as Lee Evans. Daniel Wilmot’s Conrad and Damian Freddi’s Borachio add to the physical humour too.

‘How apt that this triumphant Much Ado, one of the best of YSP’s 16 productions so far, should be enacted in front of a banner that reads Victory.’