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Much Ado About Nothing (Susan Elkin reviews)

Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakespeare

Moving Parts Theatre

Director Simona Hughes

The Actors’ Church, Covent Garden

Star rating: 3

There’s a lot of it about at the moment: you could even say there’s much ado about a certain Shakespeare play. I seem to have seen it several times in the last year or two and there’s another production across the river at The Globe which I haven’t yet caught up with.

Anyway, this is decent enough production of what I’ve always thought of as a rather strange play. The most interesting thing in it is the delicious chemistry between Beatrice and Benedick and their eventual, inevitable coming together. Everyone can see that they are made for each other. It’s just a matter of manipulating them into seeing it for themselves. In a sense everything else is a side show. Yet this version doesn’t bring that out as strongly as it should  and although Joanna Nevin and Martin South work well enough together, I didn’t feel the magnetic attraction between them

This production opens with a scene which is nothing to do with Shakespeare. Instead we get Katrina Michaels (who becomes Margaret) and Will Benyon (ditto Borachio) doing a version of the traditional Soldier, Soldier Will You Marry Me? to the tune of Funiculi Funicula. And it adds nothing, apart from hinting that Margaret and Borachio might have the hots for each other but as we don’t yet know who they are, it doesn’t work. On the other hand Michaels is a fine actor muso (beautiful, very unusual wooden accordion) who projects oodles of sexy personality and Margaret is much more of a presence in this production than she would normally be. Benyon too – good guitarist – is ever present, projecting delicious insolence, and we get a strong sense of his self-interested amorality. However, their frequent arm gestures to control other characters, as Puck or Ariel might, are against the grain of the text and arguably absurd.

Lewis Jenkins, strong as Claudio, made me reflect afresh on what an unpleasant young man this character  is. He falls for Hero (Thissy Dias – good)  at first glance – probably mostly because she’s the only child of a wealthy father. Then when he’s tricked into thinking that she’s no virgin he jilts her publicly at the altar to maximise the cruelty rather than breaking off the betrothal in private. When he believes Hero is dead he readily agrees to take Beatrice instead (as presumably she will now be the beneficiary of her uncle’s estate). Then, finally, when Hero is “resurrected” he grabs her gleefully. Well, if I’d been Hero I’d have told him to take a running jump and we used to have interesting classroom discussions about this when I was teaching this play to GCSE and A level students. Jenkins does all that “eye to the main chance” stuff, patriarchal disdain and joshing with his mates very well.

Keith Hill is outstanding as Leonato. He plays him as slightly dim, deeply fond of his daughter, Hero, and full of earnestness and embarrassment. When he believes the plotters rather than his daughter, it’s genuinely painful. Hill is an exceptionally fine listener and reactor too. It’s beautifully shaped and nuanced performance.

And  Michaels, who really is very talented, is hilarious when she doubles as the Constable and spits out all those malapropisms.

The garden at The Actors’ Church is delightful but it’s a challenging space to work in because the competition from the noisy performers and crowds in the Piazza, is very loud. The playing space is, on this occasion, a very big grassy oval with audience round most of the edge, either one or two rows deep. Simona Hughes and her cast use the space  dynamically and energetically which means that the action is often very close to audience members. Moreover, these nine actors have learned to project at a volume which means, remarkably given the situation, that you can hear every word,  Full marks for that and for the clarity of the story telling.

Are there two better words, by the way, anywhere in Shakespeare than Beatrices’s “Kill Claudio”?  It’s funny (and Nevin times it beautifully) because it’s outrageous but by golly, I know where she’s coming from.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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