Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Christopher Luscombe
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
It’s sometimes a little difficult to remember Shakespeare’s romantic comedies for things other than the wordplay, ridiculous situations and farce. This production has those three key elements for sure. However, it also brilliantly brings out the darkness and menace inherent in the chronicle of betrayal that is Much Ado About Nothing to create a version with more depth than recent productions in the capital have even hinted at.
We’re mainly tracking the intertwining love story of Claudio (Tunji Kasim) and Hero (Rebecca Collingwood), and Benedick (Edward Bennett) and Beatrice (Lisa Dillon). Following Shakespeare’s beloved theme, the course of these true loves does not run smooth. Claudio and Hero are beset with devastating lies and vindictive plotting by a scheming Don John (leading to a horrendous public shaming of the innocent Hero at their aborted wedding ceremony) while Benedick and Beatrice are their own worst enemies and have to be tricked by their friends into admitting their love for each other.
Set in a country house of middling-high aristocracy just before the 1920s, the reinvention of one of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays is superbly executed. Simon Higlett’s set, Oliver Fenwick’s design and Bob Broad’s music come together wonderfully with a talented cast and Christopher Luscombe’s direction to deliver something immediately familiar but still new and exciting. It has the feeling of Shakespeare by way of Noël Coward and P. G. Wodehouse.
That darkness keeps coming back, constantly shadowing the undeniably excellent comedy. The Constable Dogsberry, a perfect case in point. Generally a bit of a buffoon, the character here is clearly suffering some form of physical tic, a Tourette’s syndrome-like affliction. His verbal mixups and frustrations begin hilarious, and confirm the comic prowess of Nick Haverson. Then when frustrated during his questioning of the arrested conspirators he becomes overwhelmed, twitching and juddering in the grip of a stress induced fit – breaking the hearts of those who not 30 seconds before had been nearly crying with laughter.
Between this and the other play the company are running in rep as transfers from the 2016 Chichester festival, Love’s Labour’s Lost, there may be a temptation to hang a small sign outside the Theatre Royal proclaiming welcome to the Edward Bennett, Lisa Dillon and John Hodgkinson shows. They’re by no means limelight hogs, but through the two shows they’re all three riveting. As Benedick and Beatrice, Bennett and Dillon deliver the punchy wit this play is famed for. As much as we like to believe their characters end up together forever after, let’s also hope we see these two sharing a stage again soon.
Runs until 18 March 2017 | Image: Manuel Harlan