Is London in possession of a lovelier outdoor space than Regent's Park Open Air Theatre? We can't think of many. And the cherry on top of last night's late-sunshine-filled loveliness, was the opening night of Much Ado About Nothing, a brilliant riot of colour, comedy, and consummate performances.
Much Ado About Nothing, you'll remember, is the one with Beatrice (Samantha Spiro) and Benedick (Sean Campion). Shakespeare's "warring lovers" as programme notes seem compelled to call them. One story follows a plot to make a couple who've decided falling in love will make them look like idiots fall in love; another more sinister thread sees neer-do-wells plotting to make true lovers fall out with rumours that the lass is unchaste and all the rest of it.
The outdoor setting even seemed in tune with the two moods of Shakespeare's play. Sunny for the cute, comic first half; as darkness fell, so did the tone with the gorgeous Hero's (Anneika Rose) sharp, shocking rejection by the equally yummy Claudio (Ben "Primeval" Mansfield).
Despite the script offering up its best lines to Benedick and Beatrice's quarrelling, this production proves Much Ado About Nothing can be a real ensemble piece. Sean Campion seems to relax into his Irish Benedick, being better as his goofy laughs grow. Anthony O'Donnell plays the incompetent police chief Dogberry with the air of a shrunken malaprop-ridden Harry Seacombe, his funny bits even funnier thanks to sidekick silliness from the Welsh Verges (Simon Gregor).
But Much Ado About Nothing is possibly Shakespeare's feminist play, and these bitching, gossiping guys are all the stronger for Samantha Spiro's wonderful Beatrice. She lights up the stage, the text, even the park, with a text-book performance of the Bard's best heroine.
Also due a star mention is Philip Witcomb's sweeping new staging at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre which provides a stunning setting; both simple and damned effective. It doesn't detract from the loveliness of the lavish backdrop provided by nature, but gives wonderfully clever opportunities for beautiful staging of Much Ado About Nothing's many comic and tragic moments.
Best of all is the way the show lets Shakespeare's stuff sing. Straightforward comic devices are rendered with such skill, taking nothing away from the language: a box for a short guy to stand on; a tablecloth for a tall guy to hide under; a bucket stuck on a girl's high-heel. When it comes to slapstick, simple works best. It's not often Shakespeare's magnificent comic quips between Bea and Ben are matched by simple props, but last night a falling lemon possibly scored louder laughs.
Add gorgous music, well-crafted choreography, great costumes, a jazz band in the interval, Pimms, fairy lights and so on, and you've pretty much got a perfect summer's evening.
And last night's show was far from sold out: remind us why you haven't been yet?
Much Ado About Nothing plays at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre until 27 June. Tickets from £10. Box Office: 0844 826 4242