Much to like about ‘Much Ado’

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Bell Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”. Photo: Clare Hawley

Theatre / “Much Ado About Nothing”, by William Shakespeare. Directed by James Evans. Bell Shakespeare. At The Playhouse, until October 19. Reviewed by JOE WOODWARD

“MUCH Ado About Nothing” once again illustrates Bell Shakespeare’s ability to perform Shakespeare’s comedies very well. 

The consistency of comedic presentations is testimony to their development processes, casting and traditions. This is evident in the very high level of physicality, rapid-fire vocal qualities and the surprise touches that pop up with each production. 

“Much Ado About Nothing” utilises these features in abundance with a strong cast mixture of experienced actors and dynamic young newcomers. 

David Whitney’s Leonato provided the spine for the play. His compelling presence was a fulcrum around which the petty “much ado” spun out of control. 

Mandy Bishop’s stunning comic performance of Dogberry illustrated perfect timing ability and a deft application of nuance in every line. 

Duncan Ragg and Zindzi Okenyo in Bell Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”. Photo: Clare Hawley

Duncan Ragg’s Benedick was a master of vocal dexterity and beautifully utilised engagement with the audience. Zindzi Okenyo’s Beatrice and Vivienne Awosoga’s Hero provided the soul of the work; presenting with a highly charged yet contained energy tinged with a sense of ironic detachment. Their particular mix of restraint and release gave the final problematic denouement have a degree of contemporary substance.

Singling out particular performances, though, is in no way to diminish the very high standard of ensemble playing from the whole cast. The production was a masterclass in Shakespearian comedy performance.

This said, “Much Ado About Nothing” is a strange play. There are strains of other works seeping throughout it: “The Taming of the Shrew”, “Twelfth Night”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and even “Troilus and Cressida” and “The Winter’s Tale”. The trading of women and girls as commodities for powerful and shameless men is never really questioned in Shakespeare’s paradigm of play construction. It means there are always going to be problematic questions for contemporary performance. 

Bell Shakespeare’s solutions centre around the use of irony and silence; making it very difficult for the company’s artists and personnel to challenge what many see as simply an historical situation. There is little if any attempt beyond design and theatrical solutions to reveal the currency of such thinking and how it links to Shakespeare’s texts. 

Put such questions aside, suspend disbelief, sit back and enjoy! “Much Ado About Nothing” is an ironic title with “nothing” seeming to refer to falsity of an accusation against Hero. Or perhaps it was referring to the harm caused Hero which, in the light of day, was or IS “nothing” to worry about!

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