Tuesday 27th September 2022 at Leeds Playhouse.
All’s fair in love and a merry war? Ask this bunch!
Much Ado About Nothing is one of William Shakespeare’s best comedies – it’s certainly one of my absolute favourites. Here, Ramps on the Moon and Sheffield Theatres have teamed up for a production of this comedic great which is painstakingly configured for access and inclusion, with embedded BSL, audio description and captioning.
So what’s what? Well, Beatrice and Benedick are a pair of bickering frenemies who do a good job of convincing each other (and us) that the single life is the only life for them. Beatrice’s cousin Hero and Benedick’s pal Claudio have the reverse view and get set to tie the knot. A dastardly brother and gaggles of playful, meddling friends bring all four to mishap and happy conclusion – how else could a Shakespearean rom-com end, eh?
A large and diverse cast under direction of Robert Hastie bring this tale to life. Having a great Beatrice and Benedick is always the cornerstone of any Much Ado production and Daneka Etchells and Guy Rhys have a great dynamic. They do well in the sparring scenes but actually offer their best work in gentler later scenes when they’ve downed weapons. Hero (Claire Wetherall) and Claudio (Taku Mutero) offer the pure doe-eyed lovers of the tale but also scenes of shocking betrayal and mistreatment – those snatches of real darkness within a comedy is something I’ve always found quite fascinating about the dynamics in this play.
Dan Parr’s meddling Don Pedro is suitably bouncy and optimistic while Caroline Parker’s Dogberry a brilliant comic presence which is welcome in its eccentric forcefulness. The double act of Dogberry and Verges (Lee Farrell) falls a little short in its reliance on an uber-camp characterisation of the sidekick for comedy but the audience as a whole seemed to have a good time with them. Standouts for me are Laura Goulden’s expressive Margaret who brings a winning energy to all she does and Shreya M. Patel’s Ursula – a woman who never heard of a good trick she couldn’t delight in or great news she couldn’t rejoice in with all her might. As a pairing, they’re great fun to watch.
The drawback here lies with the running time and dips in comic pace – Shakespeare’s comedies are best when they’re snappy and boisterous and while there are moments of that here, there isn’t a sufficient sense of propulsion and that makes the production feel overlong. That said, some interesting small tweaks in this adaptation generally arrive smoothly: Don John is Donna Joanna and Fatima Niemogha is a great villain sporting classic coldness as chilly as any male version of Don John has. The odd modern phrasing of a line or naughty asides work nicely to keep us with one foot in the past and the other in the present. Meanwhile design from Leter McKintosh takes us to something like a cabin in the woods in Messina – complete with spa treatments. As for the masked ball? Now a line dancing gig complete with cowboy hats and southern drawls as the characters attempt to evade identification…
It’s always impressive to see how well Ramps on the Moon and co adapt the classics for inclusive contemporary adaptations and this production is no exception – there’s a lot to like here and Shakespeare’s top tale of love, woe and war gets a heartfelt outing.
Much Ado About Nothing plays Leeds Playhouse until October 1st 2022 – you can find tickets and more information here.
Additional credits: BSL Director: Emily Howlett; Audio Description Director: Chloë Clarke; Captioning co-ordinator: Cara Lawless.