Review: Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare, Mercury Theatre, Colchester, until October 15.
- Credit: Archant
Much Ado is one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies but it’s also a very thoughtful play which has a lot to say about gender roles, about the nature of love and the darker side of the human psyche. In effect it is a play all about contradictions – the contradictions that make up the human character.
This homegrown production, directed by Pia Furtado, brings the action from the notional setting of Messina to the very real garrison town of Colchester. It’s a clear that there has been a lot of thought given to the setting of the play. It’s a story of love set against the return of a victorious army back to base. As such the Colchester setting should have sat very well within the plot but, instead, as the play developed, it left me feeling that the whole thing was clumsy and forced.
While the physical setting of the garrison canteen, where the main action is set, is convincingly realised on stage, the need to shoehorn in this contemporary angle destroyed not only the atmosphere of the play but, more importantly, the comedy. Everything was too regimented – if you will pardon the pun.
Furthermore, the soldierly delivery meant that many of the play’s funniest barbs were lost in a tongue-twisting, machine gun-like gabble – there was no pointing of the lines, no pauses for effect, no collusion with the audience as the friends set their traps to lure Benedict and Beatrice into each other’s arms.
It was as if the director told the cast: “This is Shakespeare. It’s very wordy. You can’t afford to let the pace drop or you will lose the audience.” The result is that the cast took everything at the gallop, leaving the audience breathless and more than a little stunned.
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The night I saw the show there was precious few laughs around me. The few titters that did float up from the stalls were reserved for the physical comedy supplied by Kirsty J Curtis as Margaret ‘The Essex Girl’ canteen girl-cum-ladies’ maid to Hero, the commander’s daughter.
Danielle Flett, as the feisty heroine Beatrice, tries her best to breathe some good-natured heat into her verbal jousting with Benedict but the direction ensures that the scenes are so stilted and straight-laced that it is impossible to have any fun with these sparring sessions.
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The transformation of the villainous Don John into a woman, played with brooding menace by Polly Lister, works nicely but sadly the traditional comedy piece de resistance Dogberry and the Night’s Watch falls completely flat. If you follow the central idea, of setting the action in a modern day garrison town, through to its logical conclusion, then the Night’s Watch should have been Keystone Cop-style red caps - MPs – instead we have highly trained military personnel being detained by a hotch-potch collection of what appeared to be a very decrepit neighbourhood watch.
Much Ado About Nothing is one of my favourite Shakespeare comedies simply because it is so rich in subject matter. To get the best out of it, you need to treat it gently and let the comedy do the hard work for you. Sadly, from the beginning, this production clearly harnesses itself to such a cumbersome and self-indulgent concept that it never has the flexibility to take flight.