REVIEW: I KNOW YOU OF OLD (The Hope Theatre) ★★★★

GOLEM! theatre company’s purpose is to take great, already famous, plays and re-imagine them. This they do in clever, interesting and entertaining ways. I Know You Of Old is a, modern dress, play, which is a fresh view on one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, Much Ado About Nothing. Except for a few insignificant phrases, they keep strictly to Shakespeare’s text.

There are two enthralling stories which run parallel in Much Ado About Nothing. There is firstly the love and sadness between Hero and Claudio. A story of guilt, jealousy, lies and loss. The second is the entertaining love battle between the well matched pair, Benedick and Beatrice and who will be first to drop their guard and admit their love for the other. Beatrice is one of Shakespeare’s most intelligent, and finest female roles.

I Know You Of Old begins at a time when Claudio believes that his love, Hero, is dead from grief and shock after he has wrongly shamed her and rejected her at the marriage alter. Despite his grief and feelings of guilt, Claudio has decided to carry on with his and Hero’s plot to bring Benedick and Beatrice, their close friends, together and get them to accept what the audience has known from the beginning, that they were a match made in heaven.

The play takes place around Hero’s, presumably, empty coffin, the night before the funeral is due to take place. The story’s theme is that of the hilarious interaction between Benedick and Beatrice.

The cast of three are all first rate and very experienced. Claudio is excellently played by Conor O’Kane. Claudio’s character is both difficult and complex. He believes that he has caused his beloved Hero’s death and appears to be trying to partially atone by bringing to fruition, the plan that he and Hero had conceived, before her demise.

David Fairs perfectly portrays the smart talking playboy, Benedick. His gradual development into a more rounded human being, prepared to admit his love, is touching. Beatrice is played by the wonderful Sarah Lambie. Sarah is a fine actress who makes the character her own. Together they make a great team.

It seems to me that, in order to fully understand what is happening, you need to know the original story. Even then you are left unsure as to whether Hero is alive or not in this production. Alternatively you can just sit back and enjoy the humour, the heart and the beautiful Shakespearean prose. The final performance will be on the 1st July, buy a ticket and see it if you can, it is well worth it.

Reviewed by Graham Archer