Lauderdale House on Highgate Hill has a built reputation for quality, with regular cabaret seasons showcasing the talents of some of the best performers in musical theatre. Constructed in 1582, the venue’s primary function is as an arts and education centre attended by over 65,000 visitors each year. The grounds provide a wonderfully atmospheric setting for two productions this August, The Wind In The Willows and Much Ado About Nothing, both presented by Shooting Stars Theatre Company.
Directed by Helen Crosse and presented on the tea lawn, Much Ado features a sprightly and hugely energetic cast of twelve who inject passion and zest into the work, which has been updated to recent times. With drunken soldiers in modern combats singing Jerusalem, an alcohol-laden beach party and the outdoor summer feel, the traditional setting of Sicily could just as easily be applied to Cyprus or any other ’Brits abroad’ holiday island destination. There is a real feeling that each of the characters are there to have a good time.
The two couples are well cast and evenly balanced. Tabitha Becker-Kahn sets the standard as Beatrice and is great value, never flagging for a single moment. Beatrice is always a great role to play and here, Crosse has allowed Becker-Kahn the freedom to make the part her own, injecting a degree of enthusiasm that lifts the entire production. Her on-off partner, Michael Totton as the testosterone-laden, lifelong bachelor Benedick is a good match, their respective eavesdropping scenes being a highlight; the agile Totton uses the audience as good cover in an amusingly camp display and seems to be everywhere at once, while Becker-Kahn delights by borrowing hats and scarves to gain disguise.
Joe Sargent’s Claudio is truly ‘one of the boys’ and would be totally at home in any army barracks, there is a lot of male-bonding here! It’s no wonder that he falls for Hero (Emily Grace-Hyland), with her sugar-sweet looks and gorgeous curls. Their first wedding scene is particularly well delivered, both parties giving passionate performances.
As the sun sets over the trees of Waterlow Park and a clear blue sky with not a building in view, it’s easy to imagine you’re anywhere but London. This delightful venue, with the players performing on the lawn in front of you, easily takes you to realms beyond the capital. The occasional aeroplane overhead induces thought to pastures beyond the horizon, providing a perfect backdrop to the story as it evolves, transporting you to far-away places, maybe even to the port of Messina.
Both productions are suitable for all ages but with short runs for each, there is only limited opportunity to enjoy their unique experience this summer. Tickets are still available, make the effort, bring a rug and picnic if you wish or there is outdoor seating available should you prefer. I’d not been before but I’m already looking forward to returning.
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By Gareth Richardson
Much Ado About Nothing - 22nd to 26th August, 7pm, £12
Wind In The Willows - 26th & 27th August, 2.30pm, £6.50
Lauderdale House, London, N6. (nearest tube Archway)