Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Kayleigh Hawkins
Even the most light-hearted Shakespeare comedies can feel wordy, with language that challenges contemporary audiences, while somehow also having flimsy storylines. Much Ado About Nothing pretty much lives up to its title, with a plot that can be described in a few sentences and some rather unconvincing scenarios. So this (almost) all-female production presented by HER Productions, Girl Gang Manchester and Unseemly Women, is something of a triumph, fully embracing the slapstick nature of the comedy while giving its potentially one-dimensional characters some real depth.
Much Ado centres on a gathering of friends and family at the home of the Duke of Messina. There’s something in the air. Claudio and Hero are smitten the minute they set eyes on each other. Beatrice and Benedict despise one another but are tricked into falling in love. A mis-understanding results in Hero being dumped at the alter and left for dead (yes…that bit seems a bit brutal). Undeterred she makes a comeback disguised as her own cousin, takes Claudio by surprise, and all’s right with the world.
An all-female production (although there are two men in the cast) gives extra emphasis to the fact that there’s a huge amount of blokey and girl-talk in this play – the men are returning from war; to be reunited with the women who’ve been left at home. There’s some tight friendships borne of enforced intimacy. There’s also, though, a strong sense of equality. Male and female characters have both strengths and foibles that are far from gender stereotypes. While not overtly exploiting this (there are probably plenty of academic studies that do), this production seems to celebrate gender diversity with a joyful, light touch.
The production is pacy and full of energy. The young company deliver lines at breakneck speed, and there’s never a moment when there’s not movement on the stage. It’s a brilliantly funny and engaging piece of theatre from start to finish, with lovely moments of physical comedy and sharp direction from Kayleigh Hawkins. There’s even a fantastic dance routine that Hawkins slips seamlessly into the action.
It’s very much an ensemble piece in which everyone gets their moment, but Victoria Oxley (Balthazar), Rachael Gill-Davies (Benedict) and Janelle Thompson (Innogen) prove themselves great comic actors, Lucy Keirl (Beatrice) and Daisie Moore (Claudio) bring dramatic gravitas. With more costume changes than you’d think possible in two hours, Zoey Barnes’s eclectic and colourful costume design and a great pop soundtrack complete the rather out-of-control party madness of it all.
Hope Mill has become such a consistently dependable venue for great theatre in the city, and it’s fantastic to see a full house on a week-day night. There’s plenty more performances, though, and the production goes on to the newly opened Shakespeare North Playhouse at the end of the month. It’s definitely one to catch.
Runs until 27 August 2022