Surprisingly Much Ado About Nothing is actually the first Shakespeare that I’ve been to see at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre. With 2016 being a big anniversary year for the Bard, it’s been hard to avoid his extensive canon, wherever you look, and who would want to? There is a reason he is generally acknowledged as the greatest playwright of all.
The Mercury’s production takes Much Ado‘s location of Messina and transplants it into a contemporary garrison town, not unlike Colchester, even down to the infamous SOS bus and, as I recall, at least one pair of white stilettos. This is an interesting idea, especially when toying with expected gender roles against a background of soldiers and military wives, but, for me, it never quite gels. Regretfully, I felt that, although much of what was needed for a good production was in place, there was more emphasis placed on slapstick bits than the humour ingrained in one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies. Through the first act, the set clearly establishes the garrison mess hall but post-interval, it’s replaced by a perplexing abstract image, the remnants of the mess-hall strewn across the stage in a manner that I found a little jarring.
Putting this aside, there are some very capable performances. While I took a while to warm to Jason Langley’s Benedick, he had an impressive handle of the language and was very popular with the audience. Danielle Flett, as Beatrice, was well-engaged and amusing, at times flicking between giggly schoolgirl and ice queen with little more than a look. Their scenes together are among the production’s highlights, their strong chemistry clear when locking eyes and exchanging barbed words.
Kirsty J. Curtis was a charming Margaret, every inch the Essex girl and one of the few characters that really felt like she belonged in the re-imagined setting. Polly Lister gave a wonderful performance as Don John, a strong woman further seeking to prove herself and show she’s not to be messed with whilst Emmy Stonelake and Chris Charles provided her with strong support as her co-conspirators.
Dogberry (Karl Haynes) and the neighbourhood watch (as played by members of the Community Chorus) have a rather puzzling first scene but provide some comic relief with their appearances thereafter. The addition of the community chorus is an interesting one as, whilst they certainly added to the sense of community through some of the scenes, I was aware at times that more of the role seemed to consist of stage management. Nonetheless, it is a nice idea and a fantastic opportunity for those who take the Mercury up on it.
Robert Fitch, as Don Pedro, has a strong voice and great pace. His interactions with Jason Langley and Peter Bray (Claudio) reek of ‘banter’ and boys being boys. Peter Bray, for me, really steals the show with an extremely confident performance and the strongest wedding/shaming scene I’ve had the pleasure to see. Robyn Cara, as his lover Hero, is very likeable though I felt that with how young Robyn can play, the styling of Hero’s costume did suggest a greater age gap than perhaps intended.
In summary, there are some solid performances but I didn’t feel that enough time was spent ensuring the idea behind this production gelled well with the text and, as a result, the production suffered. An interesting idea, with some solid foundations but not the best work I’ve seen at the Mercury.
Review by Benjamin Powell
The war is over. The boys are coming home, and the girls can’t wait for a summer of games to begin!
The most talked-about young soldier, Claudio, falls instantly for innocent and beautiful Hero (the daughter of his Garrison commander!). Brilliant Beatrice and ladies’ man Benedick, pick up where they left off – warring with wit and words.
As the soldiers return to civilian life, everyone seems to want to scheme – friends and enemies alike. Can Beatrice and Benedick be fooled into falling in love with one another?
Can everyone’s favourite “perfect” couple – Claudio and Hero – be made to doubt their love and be taken down a peg or two?
And what is true love, anyway?
Is all the romance and heartache just much ado about nothing?
Director Pia Furtado’s saucy new production of Shakespeare’s comic battle of the sexes is staged in contemporary Essex.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
30th September – 15th October 2016
2 hrs 45mins (including interval)