Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Image credit: Haywood society via Much Ado About Nothing Facebook page

A Shakespeare comedy set outdoors at the end of term promises to deliver a fun and light-hearted show, and ultimately this is exactly what Much Ado About Nothing does. There’s nothing ground-breaking about this production’s take on a classic, but sometimes a classic is all that’s needed to produce an enjoyable piece of theatre.

Certainly the outdoor setting lends itself well to this piece; the gossipy characters slot naturally into the sun-soaked benches and summery atmosphere. There’s certainly a risk of the actors getting lost in such an open performance space, but director Ada Gunther avoids this, using the different areas of set to great effect. Beatrice’s and Benedick’s farcically transparent hiding places are perhaps one of the best examples of this; slapstick routines such as these are often overused to the point of losing their comedy, but the audience’s attention was held well throughout these scenes.

The addition of live music to a venue without other technical effects was also welcome. All three musicians performed admirably without distracting attention from the narrative, and moments of interaction between actors and musicians were a nice touch which wove in comfortably with the mood of the production.

However, for all that it was enjoyable, it’s questionable whether the play delivered on a higher level. Re-casting Leonato, Don John and Borachio as females was evidently supposed to instill a feminist take on the play, and certainly this could have been effective. Yet unfortunately, inconsistencies in how the other actors referred to these characters’ genders (“he”, “lord” and “sir” were thrown around a number of times alongside “she” and “lady”) made the entire premise difficult to buy and likely somewhat confusing to anyone who didn’t know the play. Furthermore, the characterisation wasn’t all it could have been: re-casting Don John as a gothic and somewhat petulant teenage girl didn’t entirely fit with the character’s war-mongering nature. Segal’s acting is not necessarily to blame here, but Don John’s character came across as rather flat and unconvincing. Alice Gee’s Borachio, meanwhile, was substantially more ditzy than most interpretations of this schemer; this did fit in with the carefree dynamic of the production, although there was no apparent reason for her to be wearing a cheerleader’s uniform.

Against a backdrop of slightly questionable characterisation, however, Benedick and Beatrice stood out as the highlights of the show. Saville-Ferguson brought ungainly charm to a refreshing take on Benedick’s character, while Francis’ Beatrice was wonderfully sharp-tongued and defiant without becoming dislikeable. Their mutual feelings seemed to develop rather instantaneously, a point which may not have been helped by the (necessary) cuts made to the play. However, this is always the case in Shakespeare’s comedies and the cuts didn’t hurt the production in other areas, with no clarity sacrificed in the name of brevity. Claudio and Hero’s relationship always pales next to Benedick and Beatrice’s charged exchanges, but Gould and Cussons delivered well, creating a believable enough portrayal of the characters’ rather superficial love.

While the production may not have achieved all of its goals in this modern take, the slightly awkward teenage-party atmosphere and muddled portrayals of the older characters didn’t prevent the humour of the piece coming across. The slapstick Dogberry and Verges were received well and all actors delivered to create a production which was certainly good for a laugh- which, really, is the first thing a comedy should be looking to achieve.

7/10

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