After rave reviews last year, Split Second Productions has returned to Berkeley Castle this summer for another dose of open-air Shakespeare. Michael Purton saw their performance of Much Ado About Nothing.

One of Shakespeare’s most divisive plays, people seem to either love or hate Much Ado About Nothing for the way the story swings between slapstick comedy and melodramatic romance, often combining the two in one scene.

Where Split Second triumphs is the comedy, with the youthful cast amping up the slapstick, delivering their lines with perfect timing and interacting skillfully with the audience.

In particular, Al Coppola and Lou Turner as Dogberry and Verges, the chief and deputy of the Watch, or local police, are brilliant and evoke genuine belly laughs from the audience which is, if we’re honest, rare in Shakespeare nowadays as the comedy is often found in sophisticated plays on language which has long faded from our vernacular.

With an entrance in which they play the Dad’s Army theme on kazoos, Verges’ explosive anger at audience members, and their bumbling attempts to investigate, they are hilarious – as is Angus Berryman as Benedick, who excels in both the comedy of his role and the drama as he begins the narrative a trivial, anti-love jester and develops into a solemn, love-struck hero of sorts.

You may be asking ‘what was the Dad’s Army theme doing in Shakespeare?’ but one of the masterstrokes of the production is the decision to set the events during the Second World War, as this gives the story a context which is familiar to a modern audience and they immediately understand that the characters exist in a kind of oasis, fleetingly escaped from the horrors of war.

This infuses the melodramatic scenes – where characters express their undying love mere moments after first meeting – with a sense of authenticity as you can understand that these men and women have been starved of affection and thus plunge head-first into relationships.

And although, as mentioned, the main strength of this production is the comedy, these tender and explosive dramatic scenes are played with great skill, with Ross White as Claudio and Madeleine Hatt as Beatrice especially impressive.

The quality of Split Second’s production is in itself enough to recommend Much Ado About Nothing, but with the added bonus of being set in the gardens of Berkeley Castle with the stunning structure looming in the background and used effectively within the story, the play becomes a must-see for both Shakespeare fans and those simply looking for a fantastic evening’s entertainment.


Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both performed by Split Second Productions, are at Berkeley Castle until Tuesday, July 11.

The play lasts two hours with a 15-minute interval and takes place under the cover of a gazebo. The audience are encouraged to take a picnic and chairs or a blanket.

Tickets are available online at or by calling: 01453 810303.