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Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe

What do we look for in a romantic partner? Some people can fall in love at the merest smile while others have a list of those things that make someone else desirable to them. The majority of us are probably somewhere in the middle of these two extremes but the two couples in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing definitely fall at either end.

Peter Bourke playing Conrade, Ciarán O'Brien playing Boracio and Patrick Osborne playing Soldier. Photographer: Manuel Harlan
Peter Bourke playing Conrade, Ciarán O’Brien playing Boracio and Patrick Osborne playing Soldier. Photographer: Manuel Harlan

For this version, the play is set in Northern Italy in April 1945. Following years of war, Leonata (Katy Stephens) and her family, daughter Hero Nadi Kemp-Sayfi), and niece Beatrice (Lucy Phelps) reopen the family’s battle-scarred palazzo for a celebration to welcome the partisan soldiers, led by Don Pedro (Ferdy Roberts) back from recent hard-fought victories. Accompanying the Don are Count Claudio (Patrick Osborne) a romantic young man and the cynical confirmed bachelor Benedick (Ralph Davis). Also present is Pedro’s illegitimate brother Don John (Olivier Huband) who, while outwardly pleased to have his brother back, is nonetheless not as happy as he makes out.

Immediately, there is an obvious romantic tension between Hero and Claudio with the two seemingly falling in love at their first sight of each other. Between Beatrice and Benedick, the opposite occurs with the two of them exchanging witty and barbed put-downs of each other, love, and marriage from the moment they set eyes on each other.

Shakespeare at the Globe. Well you know you’re onto a winner from the start really, and this production really delivered. The dual love story runs well as we follow the two couples through the ups and downs of their courtship. As you would expect there are some marvellous lines that Shakespeare uses to make the English language into an art form in its own right, and the cast deliver them beautifully. The gender-swapping of Leonata from male to female, was a welcome addition to the play that not only changed the dynamic, especially during the wedding scene but also showed how much Benedick was willing to sacrifice for ‘love.’ This is a fascinating insight into the man and a very astute touch by Lucy Bailey. The setting also works well, and Joanna Parker’s set looks sumptuous on the Globe’s stage as if it were nature reclaiming the area with grass and vines growing freely.

Having said that, I would have ditched the fountain in the yard. From where I was sitting, quite near it, the constant noise of running water had two effects. The first psychological, but luckily, I went just before I arrived at the theatre. The second was auditory where, especially during quiet moments, it became difficult to hear the actors, a problem shared by the others sitting near me.

Costume-wise, congratulations to Designer Caroline Hughes for the way this performance captures the spirit of the age perfectly. There was a real sense of the austerity of the war years ending and everyone being able to dress glamorously once more, so when these guys party they do it with a wonderful 1940s panache and style that adds to the sheer ‘joie de vivre’ of their celebrations. And yes, I know that’s French, not Italian but it seemed an apt
phrase to use. Having five musicians in the shape of accordion-playing Sophie Crawford, Hannah James, Aine Mcloughlin, Ilona Suomalainen and Karen Street providing accompaniment to the songs, dances – choreography by Georgina Lamb – and generally adding to the ambience with Composer Orlando Cough’s music was another nice touch that brought the party to the audience.

Kemp-Sayfi and Osborne are a lovely, cute couple as Hero and Claudio respectively and the relationship between Phelps and Davis really sparkles as Beatrice and Benedick spar with each other and both of them are absolutely hilarious in those scenes where they are eavesdropping on conversations in the garden. In fact, speaking of the comedic elements, like everyone else, I really laughed heartily during the comic scenes featuring the watchman,
Dogberry (George Fouracres) and his inept bunch. On the whole, every character came across well, though I had some trouble understanding the motivation of Don John, and I’m not sure the character really came out as well as they could. In fact, it was interesting watching the relationship between Stephens and Roberts which suggested to me there might be a whiff of romance in the air between Leonata and Don Pedro, another interesting side effect of the gender change.

Overall, Much Ado About Nothing is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays full of humour, jealousy, some tragedy, and love. As with all performances at the Globe, you can take the groundling route or a seat. This production has a lot of fun with the groundlings and there were a couple of times I was quite jealous of them. Then I remembered the show is nearly three hours long and I’m an old man, so I sat back on my cushion, relaxed and spent a happy afternoon taking in this lovely production.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

April 1945, Northern Italy. Following years of war, Leonata and her daughters reopen their battle-scarred palazzo for a celebration to welcome the partisan soldiers back from recent hard-fought victories.

Young lovers Hero and Claudio and proud singletons Beatrice and Benedick have their limits tested like never before in a wild mix of games, pranks and mischievous plots.

Introducing the Much Ado About Nothing company & creatives
Peter Bourke – CONRADE / FRIAR
Rachel Hannah Clarke – MARGARET / WATCHMAN
Ralph Davis – BENEDICK
George Fouracres – DOGBERRY
Joanne Howarth – ANTONIA / VERGES
Olivier Huband – DON JOHN
Nadi Kemp-Sayfi - HERO
Ciarán O’Brien – BORACIO
Patrick Osborne – CLAUDIO
Lucy Phelps – BEATRICE
Ferdy Roberts – DON PEDRO
Katy Stephens – LEONATA

Musician – Sophie Crawford
Musician – Hannah James
Musician – Aine Mcloughlin
Musician – Ilona Suomalainen
Musician – Karen Street
Assistant Director – Clemmie Reynolds
Casting – Becky Paris
Choreographer – Georgina Lamb
Composer – Orlando Gough
Costume Supervisor – Caroline Hughes
Designer – Joanna Parker
Director – Lucy Bailey
Fight Director – Renny Krupinski
Globe Associate – Text – Christine Schmidle
Globe Associate – Voice – Tess Dignan


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