Much Ado About Nothing – The HOUSE, Birmingham REP

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Robert Hastie

It’s official: the Programme notes cite as much – Much Ado is the original Rom-Com, sort of.

‘Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue…’ Yes Bill, raise your quill and give it up to Ramps On The Moon’s possible ex-communication for their heinous, … ’trippingly on the tongue,’ blasé, anarcho-bard, nouveau-bohemian inclusivity…and then some.

Sheffield Theatres/Ramps On The Moon’s take on Hamlet’s advice to the actors is best seen as more flexible guidance than a commitment to textual absolutes. They have form here, harking back to their barking-hip Rep collaboration reinvention of Tommy, The Musical, 2017. Mad, bad and extremely dangerous – they light potent fuses and invite their audience to stand closely by and enjoy all things explosive. Director Robert Hastie throws on some petrol just for luck.

Tonight, they’re uppity, brass-necked enjoying much the same mischief with some serious Bard-bothering, playing fast and louche with the text. Metaphorically relieving themselves up against a rapidly dissolving forth-wall construct – inveigling themselves with alarming audience familiarity. 

Ramps On The Moon are launch-pads for their audacious ingenuity, broad-church embracement of actors of all shades, abilities and physical faculties, and damnably fine invention with it. Hero, Claire Wetherall, as mute, has her signing amanuensis, as do others. The wryly sly villainess, gender recast, Donna Joanna, no, don’t go identity politics over this one, needs only minutes to convince that Fatima Niemogha, was born, bred and betrothed to the role. What are they teaching at Drama Schools these days? And don’t stop! She speaks with a patina, slow-paced brooding malevolence, sometimes signage intervenes to underscore her seething contrivances. 

Above stage, a synchronised scrolling banner relates the spoken/signed text, and the occasional cheeky ad- lib, sometimes, with amusing literal, phonic aberrations and all the more entertaining for it. ‘’Whiskey anyone?’ asks Don Pedro: Leonato’s already half-p***ed . The furiously eye-swivel shift from text to stage spoken word is something both disconcerting and revelatory. For some in cast and audience, this is not an option. Point taken. Ramps Upon The Moon aren’t about making points: they’re their own one.

There’s the distinct impression that some of these signed, mute interplays are having another cheeky giggle. A fluffed or forgotten line? Just gesticulate with impassioned gravitas until the autocue catches up and the, far too polite, socially aware, punters will buy it any day.

The ‘Difficult’ Dogberry Watch-guard comic-relief interludes are lent ridiculous OTT pink Flamingo go-go kitsch-me-slowly gay brouhaha with the outed-rageous pairing of the aforementioned played with feigned gravitas by Caroline Parker and Lee Farell’s Las Vegas neon-loud Verges. It verges on the frankly bizarre, Gay Ambassadors of all things chintz. 

Guy Rhys takes on Benedick with a deliciously affected heart of stone, no woman/no cry demeanour; that is until he falls for the overheard wind-up conversation re Beatrice’s (Daneka Etchells) hots for him. His massage-couch reclining soppy pose, prosthetic leg coyly inviting Beatrice’s apparent reciprocated passions, is a sight to behold. Ramped up to the max, pimped for a ride in the fast lane, this Much Ado ensemble cast takes no prisoners. Sigh no more, just sweet surrender anyway.

Runs Until 8 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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