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Much Ado About Nothing (Susan Elkin reviews)

Much Ado About Nothing – ★★★
William Shakespeare
society/company: Shakespeare’s Wanderers
performance date: 22 Jul 2019
venue: St. George’s Gardens, Wakefield St, Bloomsbury, London WC1H 8HZ
Photos: Chris Marchant


This succinct, two hour version of a play, which I don’t always warm to, tells the story with commendable clarity and makes it very accessible. And the diction and verse speaking is exemplary. It’s never easy in the open air and although St George’s Gardens is a quiet spot (until Heathrow flight path changes about half way though the show) it still takes skilled projection to make every word audible and this company does it expertly.

Director Bryony Thompson’s take on the play is set in Dover late in 1918 as the troops arrive home and it works convincingly – with the men in high waisted trousers and old fashioned braces and the women in simple but elegant dresses. There’s a lot of doubling – a range of accents and simple costume changes – because the play is worked as a six hander. Mostly that comes off although Rebecca Peyton doesn’t look different enough in her four roles.

Mark Rush and Tara Dowd, who co-founded Shakespeare’s Wanderers, play Benedick and Beatrice with sensitivity. The relationship between these two sparring partners who pretend to themselves and each other that the loathing is mutual but who are actually, as all their friends can see, made for each other is the most interesting thing in this play although it’s really a subplot. Rush and Dowd get it absolutely right and the two gulling scenes are fine comedy. I shall long remember Rush listening in while wrapped in a maypole.

A cast of three men and three women mean that much of the casting is gender blind. It actually blurs the play’s ghastly misogyny to make Hero’s parent a mother (Rebecca Peyton as Leonata – good) which is welcome. I never see Much Ado without being furious at the way all the men, except Benedick, immediately believe the malicious false story about Hero’s impurity. And why on earth, after being treated so appallingly at the altar once, does she agree to marry this creep? Well, in this production Julia Parlato, as a very personable Hero, makes it reasonably plausible.

In other roles, Philip Honeywell is wonderful as Dogberry, twisting his diction, moving jerkily with a strange bent body and timing the mangled malapropisms – “Comparisons are odorous” – so that we enjoy every one of them. I also liked Ben Higgins’s Don Pedro which he plays with fruity-voiced gravitas.

 First published by Sardines:
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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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