“Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare

at Shakespeare’s Globe, Thursday 21st July 2011

Much Ado About Nothing is one of those plays which just works in summer. It has an inherant feel-good factor which lends itself perfectly to sun and a season of vitality. And for all the rainy weather, Jeremy Herrin’s production at the Globe is exactly how we imagine the rom-coms of Shakespeare’s day to be: rompous, silly and a damned good laugh.

It’s not as if Herrin tries to do anything new with the play. What’s there has probably all been done before and it’s unlikely anyone would leave the theatre with a completely new perspective on the text. Mike Britton’s design is simplistic and Stephen Warbeck’s music is hardly groundbreaking. But all aspects of this production mesh together to form a Shakespeare comedy which effortlessly pleases. Although it patronises its audience with more complicated jokes, on the whole this is a subtely intelligent take on one of Shakespeare’s most intelligent plays.

For once, Claudio’s descent into rabid anger doesn’t seem wholly irrational. Played with an almost autistic view of love and marriage, Philip Cumbus manages to show someone who doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. Another good decision involves the casting of Joe Caffrey in the roles of both Borraccio and the Friar, allowing us to consider the way in which both characters manipulate the plot (I hasten to add I played the same combination of characters three years ago in my home town. I wasn’t nearly as good.)

What makes this production such a success, however, is the casting of Eve Best and Charles Edwards as Beatrice and Benedick. The couples spark off each other with such wit and truth that it’s easy to forget we’re not actually watching a real life relationship. All the nuances are there – the pats on the shoulder, the shiftiness in the eyes, the nervous laughs – and they show how love brings out youth in everyone. When two adults fall in love, they are teenagers again.

Herrin has created a show which doesn’t pretend to be anything more than three hours of good fun. During the more serious scenes, the energy drops somewhat, but perhaps this is just the actors gearing up for the next gag. With superb support from Paul Hunter as a ticking Dogberry and a calm Don Pedro from Ewan Stewart, this cast never stops. I’m not sure this production would work anywhere except the Globe, but I am certain that the pairing of Best and Edwards is one I want to see more of in the future.

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