Last night, we had the pleasure of watching one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, Much Ado About Nothing, brought to the Royal Exchange Theatre by Maria Aberg, who is making her Royal Exchange directing debut.
Originally set in 16th century Messina, Italy, a somewhat modernised production brought the play into a twentieth century, post-war setting as the soldiers returned from their battles, to arrive at the house of Leonata (a gender change from the original play where the welcoming host was Leonato), a part wonderfully played by Marty Cruickshank who, along with her previous appearance at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Clouds Over Eden, also has a string of other theatre, TV and film credits to her name including four productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The return of the soldiers sees two of our main protagonists, Benedick (played by Paul Ready) and Beatrice (Ellie Piercy), engaging in their traditional ‘merry war’ of wit, as each of them declares their disdain for love and for one another. Whilst this production is their first at the Royal Exchange, the chemistry between Ready and Piercy on stage was clear to see. Ready’s performance as the loveable, humorous and occasionally awkward Benedick drew many a laugh from the audience, and was complemented equally by Piercy’s feisty performance as the strong-willed, independent Beatrice.
The notion of strong women was clearly a theme throughout the production. In addition to the swapping of Leonato for Leonata, Aberg also delivered female versions of Dogberry (Sandy Foster) and Verges (Beverley Rudd), still holding their traditional roles as the clowns of the play, whilst simultaneously representing law and order in the city and all to the theme tune from Cagney and Lacey. The slap-stick, Dad’s Army style parody, whilst probably not to everyone’s taste, certainly provided a lot of comic absurdity and earned many a giggle from the audience.
Aberg was certainly not averse to drifting away from tradition in this performance. One of the most memorable scenes in this production has to be the post-War celebratory masquerade ball, with all the characters wearing giant, oversized, grinning heads and jiving away to a 1940’s soundtrack. This 1940’s era vibe, is then suddenly broken when a microphone drops from the ceiling and two characters give a rendition of Beyonce’s Crazy In Love.
Our two other protagonists are, of course, Hero (played by Becci Gemmell) and Claudio (Gerard Kearns) who returns to the Royal Exchange after appearing there in The Accrington Pals though probably more recognisable as a series regular on Shameless. Admirable performances are given by both, with a particularly emotive scene from Kearns who, in his grief at the seeming death of the much-wronged Hero, his true love, tears up the floor boards of the stage in anguish.
The boards having been removed by the rest of the cast, a new scene is then set for a flower bed, where, having accepted the offer of the hand of Leonato’s niece in marriage (having not even seen her), Claudio meets his veiled bride who then reveals herself to in fact be Hero.
With strong performances from additional supporting characters such as Margaret/Sexton played by Sophia Nomvete, as well as Jason Baughan (Don Pedro), Milo Twomey (Don John) and Danny Dalton (Boracchio), Much Ado About Nothing is certainly worth a watch for a good evening of entertainment.
Much Ado About Nothing shows at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 3rd May 2014