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Much Ado About Nothing at Wilton’s Music Hall | Review

Much Ado About Nothing: Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Beatrice and Geofrey Lumb as Bendick
Much Ado About Nothing: Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Beatrice and Geofrey Lumb as Bendick

Much Ado About Nothing is Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s twentieth anniversary production, a company that, in the words of this production’s Director Elizabeth Freestone, values language, storytelling and the audience experience above all else. With the apparent “comedy” of revenge and miscommunication at the centre of this story’s near-farcical spiral, it might seem timely as an exploration of post-truth and love in an age of digital dating, but concept and content find themselves in an unloved marriage, with a production feeling distanced from the themes it’s trying to expose.

The opening set sees preparations underway for the party, with crates of supplies, beers and balloons spelling out and celebrating the soldiers return ‘home’. Jean Chan’s set design is decorated with richly coloured trees which, although a pretty picture make, don’t seem to resonate with the world of the storytelling. Similarly, whilst a superhero themed ball, with a novelty disco lighting design by Mic Farman might shoot a burst of energy into an at times lacklustre pace, the fun appears like an in-joke that the audience seem a touch alienated by. Chris Warner’s sound design is thoughtful and atmospheric, a flock of tweeting birds livening up the skyline, but again feels like part of a different production as the text doesn’t appear to draw upon the aesthetic.

Despite a production which lacks its pace and punch, the company is led by a strong ensemble. Imran Momen makes a puppy-like Claudio, his fall for Don Jon’s deceit like a tripping up over his own feathery naivety. He doesn’t frankly deserve the articulate, intelligence Hero, played with much strength and affection by Hannah Bristow.

Georgia Frost’s Don Jon has some strange desperation, some underscoring trauma that never comes to light; this lack of clarity makes it a struggle to support Freestone’s emphasis on the darker aspects of the plot and this interpretation of the character confused within the text.

The two scenes most memorable and captivating are those with Beatrice and Benedick, played by Dorothea Myer-Bennett and Geoffrey Lumb. One might argue that the scenes are so tightly writ it’s hard to get them wrong, but Myer-Bennett and Lumb’s biting rapport brings a much-needed zest to the production. Myer-Bennett laughs wickedly at first, a cackle that finds itself later reborn into a nervous giggle as a mutual love begins to infiltrate the air. Her performance easily steals the show, and I only wish she was on stage the whole time. Like Claudio, Lumb is
too puppy-like at times, critical of love at others, and finds the balance between playful interaction and grounded openness with a great ease that reels us in.

The long-awaited marriage that finally arrives at the play’s conclusion is perhaps unsettlingly emotive with underpinning music, speedily bringing the play back to its comedic genre, and binding together Claudio with Hero, who definitely deserves better. At nearly three hours in length, ‘This wedding day perhaps is but prolonged’ seems a dramatic understatement. Sharp cuttings could be done to this text to really emphasise its contemporary issues and, despite all the elements working nicely in isolation, the collaboration of text, design and concept don’t quite fit together in a production built on ideas that unfortunately don’t make it through the brickwork.

3 Star Review

Review by Joseph Winer

Let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.
Home from war, a group of soldiers attempt to put their fighting days behind them. But adjusting to civilian life isn’t easy, especially when love is thrown into the mix. How do you let go of your demons? How do you learn to be your real self again? And what does that mean for the friendships that helped you survive?

Much Ado About Nothing is an examination of the lies we tell each other and ourselves. Shakespeare’s play is a riotous story of trickery and pretence: both the innocent playful kind that might help two people find each other; as well as the darkly treacherous kind that might have terrible consequences.

With a vivid array of characters Much Ado About Nothing is a tumultuous and unpredictable play about finding yourself and your happiness.

Cast:
Alice Barclay: Ursula
Dorothea Myer-Bennett: Beatrice
Christopher Bianchi: Leonato
Hannah Bristow: Hero/Verges
Georgia Frost: Don Jon/ Sexton
Bethan Mary-James: Margaret
Geoffrey Lumb: Benedick
Imran Momen: Claudio/Oatcake
Louise Mai Newberry: Dogberry
Zachary Powell: Don Pedro/ Seacole
Alex Wilson: Borachio/ Friar

Creative team:
Elizabeth Freestone: Director
Jean Chan: Designer
Chris Warner: Composer and Sound Designer
Nic Farman: Lighting Designer
Maria Clarke: Movement Director
Nic Prior: Production Manager

Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including a 20 minute interval

Presented by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory
12th November to 23rd November 2019
https://www.wiltons.org.uk/

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