MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
by William Shakespeare.
Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 3 May 2014.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed & 17 April 2.30pm, Sat 3.30pm.
Audio-described 26 April 3.30pm.
BSL Signed 29 April.
Captioned 22 April.
Post-show Discussion 24 April.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 April.
Rather too much ado at times.
As with Twelfth Night, Much Ado sees the theoretically secondary characters, the ‘comic relief’, taking over. The play would be nothing without the older Beatrice and Benedick’s defensive bickering all the way to marriage. But their comedy would fall flat without the serious story of innocent young lovers Hero and Claudio, stopped short at the altar by the inexplicably malcontent Don John’s manoeuvrings.
Their stories merge when Benedick, finally admitting he loves Beatrice, is commanded by her to kill the friend who jilted Hero on the basis of malicious rumours. Coming after their love talk, it inevitably produces a laugh.
As do the scenes where characters believe they are eavesdropping on conversations that have actually been set-up for them to overhear. These are both comic and tragic, though it’s the comic ones we see, with Maria Aberg’s production using the Royal Exchange’s in-the-Round stage and its front audience rows inventively for Benedick and Beatrice to conceal themselves as they listen-in.
The putting-up and crashing-down of decorations, the opening-out of a wooden structure to create an earthy garden, in Merle Hensel’s set follow the play’s mood. Less successful is the visual comedy by the dull Watch who, amid their leader Dogberry’s mangling of meaning, uncover the plot against Hero. Clumsy visual clowning overlays the balanced humanity of their simplicity and good intentions. At least there are women on patrol in this post-War setting.
Hero and Claudio are quietly efficient, Paul Ready’s Benedick promisingly lively, but tending, like much here, to external energy rather than concentrated character development. Good work from Beverly Rudd’s Ursula and Sophia Nomvete’s Margaret, including silent guilt when realising she’s been tricked into the plot against Hero.
Ellie Piercy has a sad edge to her sparky nature, and apart from needing clearer articulation in her speedily spoken early scenes is a suitably complex Beatrice.
Aberg might have spent less time on external gags, more on analysing moments where verse-speaking creates unreliable emphases. For the ideal, look to Marty Cruikshank’s Leonata. What matters isn’t that the role becomes female, but that Cruikshank combines technical accuracy and recognisable human emotion.
Benedick: Paul Ready.
Leonata: Marty Cruikshank.
Beatrice: Ellie Piercy.
Don Pedro: Jason Baughan.
Claudio: Gerard Kearns.
Dogberry: Sandy Foster.
Boracchio: Danny Dalton.
Hero: Becci Gemmell.
Don John: Milo Twomey.
Ursula/Verges: Beverly Rudd.
Margaret/Sexton: Sophia Nomvete.
Friar Francis: Geoff Leesley.
Antonio: James Pearse.
Watchman/Messenger: David Judge.
Director: Maria Aberg.
Designer: Merle Hensel.
Lighting: Lee Curran.
Sound: Carolyn Downing.
Choral & Musical arranger: Jeff Borradaile.
Movement: Ayse Tashkiran.
Voice/Text: Alison Bomber.
Assistant director: Liz Stevenson.