Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Maria Aberg
Reviewer: John Roberts
The Royal Exchange has always had a great reputation for their yearly Shakespeare productions. There is an element of respecting the words carefully crafted by The Bard and injecting them with an accessible sense of modernity and delivered by a strong ensemble cast and on the whole this is exactly what Maria Aberg’s production of the comic Much Ado About Nothing does.
The production is beautifully crisp in the delivery of the text, clarity is key and the strong cast give the words a real punch, bringing with them a real resonance and understanding – no small feat, as anyone who has seen bad Shakespeare can attest. However the production overall doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be – Aberg has (in looks anyway) set the production in and around the 1950s – this is a country post war.
However Aberg’s direction seems to inject elements that want to throw this really strong vision off its tracks – most notably a cover version of Beyonce’s ‘Crazy In Love’ and then comes the comical yet severely clichéd Brummie guards Dogberry and Verges – while in isolation this slapstick comedy double act has plenty going for it Sandy Foster and Beverly Rudd give their all – it just uncomfortably juxtaposes along side the rest of the production, which on the whole relies on the natural wit of the original writing. One can’t help but think the Exchange is above the dumbfounding stereotyping that these actors are being told to deliver.
Merle Hensel’s organic wooden set evokes a self-sufficient era upon which the play is set, and alongside Lee Curran’s lighting design produces some eerily atmospheric moments – most notably in the darker more tender moments of the play.
Strong performances are given from the two lead protagonists, Paul Ready is a confident and sure Benedick and has a real flair with the prose, with it just flitting off the lips as if it’s his mother tongue. Ready is balanced well with a strong Beatrice from Ellie Piercy – not as feisty as other portrayals but equally strong and sure. Becci Gemmell as the shyer and quieter Hero is a delight and balances the rather bland character well, alongside her is Gerard Kearns who gives an admirable performance although at times falls into the trap of overacting especially during the more emotional scenes later in the play – the adage of less is more would certainly be the key here.
Aberg has created a production that has plenty going for it – the fun and rather quirky dance during the first half is a breath of fresh air. However it feels at times ideas are brought into the production that haven’t quite been thought through and they pull it into a game of tug-of-war which means it can never really settle into its own identity – a shame as there is something shimmering below the surface that is just screaming to be found and let out and once that could be found it could really shine.
Photo: Jonathan Keenan | Runs until 3rd May 2014