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Much Ado About Nothing – Nottingham Playhouse

Reviewer: Skylar Mabry

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Robert Hastie

Sheffield Theatres and Ramps on the Moon have teamed up to bring a Shakespearean comedy favourite into the 21stcentury of theatre-making. Featuring a bright, colourful design and a talented, energetic cast to match, Much Ado About Nothing is a playful addition to Ramps on the Moon’s glowing portfolio.

Much Ado About Nothing tells the story of the stubborn yet witty Beatrice and Benedick, and the people whose fates are entwined with theirs. The play begins with happiness – men are returning from a conflict, and a marriage is set between Hero and Claudio. Unfortunately, trickster Donna Joanna plots against this engagement, just as the friends of Hero and Claudio decide to trick Benedick and Beatrice into falling in love with each other. These tricks unfold together, creating moments of hilarity and of tension, and ultimately (spoiler!) ending in at least one wedding.

This production is in true Ramps on the Moon form – every performance features captioning, audio description, and integrated creative sign language – beginning with an introduction to the play, the characters, and some of the structures and storytelling conventions in place (such as making clear when interpreting is happening, who is doing it). From the start, this cast is charming. Decked out in their trendy, colourful costumes, the personalised introduction from each performer is a warm invitation to relax and enjoy.

Each performer glistens, bringing their own style and unique energy, which improves the clarity of the script and the storytelling. The ensemble feels connected, clearly listening and responding in time with each other. The cleverness of Shakespeare lends itself to the well-paced wittiness within the group: each beat and joke lands exactly right. Relationships between characters are exciting and intriguing, and there’s always something more to be curious about. Beatrice (Daneka Etchells), in a flattering yellow jumpsuit, sharply defines her relationship to each person on the stage. Etchells presents a nuanced version of Beatrice, with a personal attention to detail that makes her irresistible. It’s no wonder Benedick (charismatically played by Guy Rhys) falls for her – these two have a fantastically volatile chemistry.

Margaret – Hero’s right hand and maid – serves as an interpreter. A nosy gossip, her character has the perfect excuse to be onstage and enthralled with almost every scene. As Margaret, Laura Golden emphatically navigates moments of delightful mischief as well as incredible levity. Another standout is Borachio (Ben Wilson), who, despite being a ‘villain,’ is delightfully funny and engaging.

This fantastic cast is supported by an equally fantastic team, including British Sign Language Director Emily Howlett (who moonlighted as Seacole during this specific production), Designer Peter McKintosh, and an original underscore – ranging from Shakespearean electric to what might be called contemporary minstrel music – composed by John Biddle (who also featured in this production alongside Howlett as Oatcake).

In what other Shakespeare play can you see a scene between three men getting massages, strategically placed to justify an incredibly funny, “Ay, there’s the rub!” alongside thoughtful and authentic storytelling? This production is cheeky, innovative, inclusive, and utterly enjoyable; Ramps on the Moon and Sheffield Theatres have a hit on their hands.

Runs until 15 October 2022 and on tour

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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