Northern Broadsides’ MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is a parade of good humour, joy, deceit and forgiveness wrapped up in a Britain facing war
This Northern Broadsides production is Conrad Nelson’s last directorial role for the company, and he has done well to bring out the comedy and the tragedy of Shakespeare’s play, by interspersing 1940s world war songs and dances with the complex language of Shakespearean England.
Nelson’s reimagined version is set during World War Two and as well as popular songs and live music of the era that compliment the storyline, dances and jigs are effortlessly infused. Northern Broadsides version has bought the work closer to date and made it accessible to the younger audience, who have perhaps not imagined the story in the way it has been bought to life before.
The first half of the production flies by in a parade of music and humour, but the second half seems to drag at points especially during darker scenes, before finally speeding back up in a whirlwind of forgiveness and dance. This may be to bring out the tension an the tragedy but it really slows the performance.
Much A Do About Nothing offers an exciting opportunity for the female protagonist Beatrice to fully express sentiments of a strong independent woman while Hero expresses the wants and needs of a young woman in love.
The fourteen strong cast deliver all the roles from the biggest parts to the smaller characters with some great visual humour and staging.
Robin Simpson’s Benedick is raucously funny. He draws the audience into the performance, quite literally at times, his facial expression and slight turns of the head being laughter to the stalls.
Isobel Middleton as Beatrice produces a powerful dramatic as well as at times comedic performance which gives the production the strong female presence, this continues with the gentle warming of her steadfast heart and dynamic flip between strong and feisty independent woman to excited and vulnerable.
Sarah Kameela-Impey’s Hero and Linford Johnson’s Claudio are not entirely convincing in their performance sometimes lacking power in their voices, but both manage to bring a heart and a poignancy to the production. It is hard not to empathise with Kameela-Impey’s downfall at Hero’s wedding or Johnson’s torment at the Mausoleum.
A special mention should also be made of the Prince’s watch who march onto the stage in the second half as a cobbled together home guard. This mismatched group bring the humour of Dads army to the audience with a comic salute, and a captain Mainwaring in Dogberry vying to lead the group when given the opportunity to question the prisoners he really brings laughter to the role.
Much A Do’s antagonist is needed to bring a deeper sense of drama and the bastard Don John portrayed by Richard J Fletcher meets that role perfectly. His cunning and desire to overthrow proceedings gives the play its light and shade.
The senior characters of Leonato portrayed by Simeon Truby and Matt Rixon as Don Pedro, give the play a strong backbone. Both performances are effortless and very powerful.
Overall, this much-updated version of Much Ado About Nothing is a few hours of funny with a shade of tragedy mixed up with a Dads Army vibe. Much Ado About Nothing is touring until May 25.
Northern Broadsides MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING runs at The Lowry, Salford until 11 May 2019.
Vikki Rutter is a North West review writer, working in the glamorous world of TV. Lover of travel and cats, although travelling cats not so much.