by Laura Ferguson
The call to be seated comes, the lights dim and Sparrow strides onto the stage, his voice hearty and booming. A Brian Blessed-esque Leonato has entered and my expression quickly quirks into a grin that never really leaves my face. Ooh boy, yeah, this is gonna be fun.
Though my partner and I did not know the plot of this Shakespeare play aside from the synopsis printed on the programme card, I had an easy time navigating between the different characters. Sparrow is, as ever, a master of creating unique physical inflection to his characters to make them easily stand apart from each other. We have the soft, wafting hands of Beatrice, the wind-swept lilting of the British Isles for Claudio, a wheedling nasal-pitched Don John who reminded so much of John Lithgow’s seminal performance as Lord Farquaad in Shrek that every line was hilarious.
Of course, these are all sublime iterations of these characters, and to come from one man is an incredible feat. Sitting there, I often forget the monumental task facing Sparrow as he captivates the audience with his ability to embody so many different personas. However, there is one who absolutely slayed me with every utterance, Conrade, one of the villains and Don John’s henchman. I never knew I needed a 90’s surfer dude version of Shakespeare until Sparrow McConaughey’d out the line, “To the death, my lord”. Later when this sleepy, stoner surfer attempts to brush off Dogberry’s attempt at arresting him with I couldn’t contain my laughter and beside me my partner’s shoulders were shaking with the sheer ridiculousness and hilarity of the scene. The way Sparrow, in blasé fashion, lazily attempts to brush his own hand (acting as Dogberry) off him with a whiny, “Ughhhh, you cuuuuxxcomb, dude, you utter ASS” is perfection.
It was moments like this that Katie Boyle’s direction really shows off the play in its best light. The second act was full of characters you can see Boyle had a hand in creating. The childlike stuff-and-bluster of Dogberry, an elderly member of the Messina night’s watch complete with thrust forward chins indicating a certain amount of toothlessness and darting, squinted eyes to indicate Dogstaff’s intellectual capabilities, whom, as Don Pedro hilariously puts it, “is too cunning to be understood”.
Alexander Sparrow’s Much Ado About Nothing was a brilliant and fun-filled foray into this Shakespeare comedy. I laughed a lot and was held in awe by how Sparrow is able to keep so many accents and characters together without getting mixed up. How he achieves that and ensures his audience understand the progression of the story is amazing, though a prior knowledge of Much Ado About Nothing would still be preferable before seeing the show to ensure clarity, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. My partner and I walked home with big smiles on our faces and recited Shakespeare quotes as surfer dudes all the way home (“In, like, fair Veronuhhhh, where we, like, lay our scene, brah”). I can’t wait to see what else the Sparrow and Boyle festival has in store.
The Sparrow and Boyle Comedy Festival is running until the 21st of September at the Gryphon Theatre. Much Ado About Nothing is playing until the 14th of September. Nab your tickets here.