Antic Disposition’s Much Ado About Nothing | Review

The Much Ado About Nothing company – Photo Scott Rylander
The Much Ado About Nothing company – Photo Scott Rylander

This French-themed production of Much Adieu About Nut-ting by Guillaume Shack- spear is in 3D: Delightful, Delicious & DeLovely. This production has a triple layer of engagement. First the setting. Performed in Gray’s Inn Hall a magnificent Elizabethan dining space in London’s legal heartland one is transported back in time to Shakespeare’s England. The architecture (look up at the stunning hammer-beam roof), portraits (including Queen Elizabeth and Robert Cecil) and sculpture (Sir Francis Bacon 1564-1626 Shakespeare’s exact contemporary) together create a real immersive experience. Indeed Gray’s Inn Hall was the venue for the first performance of A Comedy of Errors in 1594. Second the treatment. In a stroke of comic genius, directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero have set the play in a French village in the summer of 1945. This sense of liberation and comic release is expressed by bringing the legendary film director Jacques Tati’s physical comedy into the heart of Much Ado. The combination of Shakespeare and Tati creates rich layers of comic possibility. The third layer is, of course, the play itself one of The Bard’s big four: the others being As You Like It, Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Antic Disposition have deliberately gone for the farcical and visual comic aspects of Much Ado. This is realised through a series of mishaps between Louis Bernard (a Jacques Tati lookalike if ever there was one) and the lugubrious Scott Brooks. There is much use of the red and white chequered tablecloths as Louis becomes more and more exasperated with Scott’s inept attempts to serve drinks to his customers. He continually flicks him like boys do with their towels in the changing room after games. All to no avail. Watch out for Scott’s bizarre table clearing technique.

Much Ado about Nothing is really three plays in one. The first plot is more or less a reworking of The Taming of the Shrew. Accept here both parties are playing hard to get and both must climb down. The comic possibilities of the Benedick and Beatrice battle of wills was famously brought to life by Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. Follow that you might say. But Chiraz Aich (Beatrice) and Nicholas Osmond (Benedick) give convincing and accomplished versions of these challenging roles. Nicholas dressed in his English Officers uniform impresses as first the haughty bachelor (“Here you may see Benedick, the married man”) and then the willing lover (“… but the world must be peopled”). Chiaz is superb in the overhearing scene as in dark glasses and wearing a napkin as a headscarf and looking for all the world like Greta Garbo she tails Hero (Floriane Andersen) and Margaret (Molly Miles) listening incredulously as they describe how much Benedick loves her. This is comic-acting of the highest quality.

The second play is Othello. The love between Claudio (Alexander Varey) and Hero is almost ruined by the Iago like Borachio (brilliantly played by Tommy Burgess) but then all is resolved as the third play (Henry IV) lets loose the comic anarchy of Falstaff in the guise of Dogberry (Louis Bernard) and his motley night watch crew. This is one of the great comic scenes in all Shakespeare and Louis Bernard, in particular, is tremendous. I was reminded of Captain Mannering in Dad’s Army trying to impose order in the drill hall. The play ends with a double marriage, singing and dancing. This production of Much Ado is a joy in every way, everything about is appealing. In the words of Cole Porter: You’re the Tops.

4 stars

Review by John O’Brien

Set in a sun-drenched French village celebrating the new peace of 1945, Antic Disposition’s Much Ado About Nothing draws its inspiration from the beloved films of French comic genius Jacques Tati (Jour de fête; Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot; Mon Oncle) while being set to a score of live music and songs of the period.

Staged in seven of England’s most beautiful and ancient cathedrals, including Ely, Gloucester, Peterborough, Ripon and Wakefield, as well as Southwell and Beverley Minsters, the tour will conclude at London’s historic Gray’s Inn Hall – one of the few remaining original Shakespearean venues, having hosted the first recorded performance of The Comedy of Errors in 1594.

Antic Disposition presents: Much Ado About Nothing
Running time 2 hours 10 minutes, including one interval
Box Office Tickets are available from www.much-ado.co.uk or on
Twitter and Instagram @anticdispo
Facebook @anticdisposition
Directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero
Designer John Risebero
Composer/Musical Director Nick Barstow

Cast
Benedick – Nicholas Osmond
Beatrice – Chiraz Aich
Hero – Floriane Andersen
Claudio – Alexander Varey
Borachio – Tommy Burgess
Don Pedro – Theo Landey
Margaret – Molly Miles
Don John – Alfie Webster
Dogberry – Louis Bernard
Leonato – Chris Hespel
Verges – Scott Brooks

Remaining dates
17th August – 1st September Gray’s Inn Hall, London WC1R 5ET – Tuesday to Saturday,
7.30pm; Saturday matinees 3pm

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