Shakespeare’s much loved comedy Much Ado About Nothing has been given a modern makeover by Director Maria Aberg and the action transported to post second world war Italy. Trained on the National Theatre Studio director’s course Aberg has taken this classic comedy and adapted it beautifully to make the most of the Exchange’s unique and intimate setting.
Following our two main couples, Benedick and Beatrice and Claudio and Hero, we watch their love stories unfold with lots of trickery and tomfoolery thrown in for good measure, not to forget of course a good sub plot or two. Paul Ready is a natural as Benedick, flamboyant, witty and perfectly locked into a love hate relationship with the sharp tonged, feisty Beatrice, played wonderfully by Ellie Piercy. In contrast to this is her quiet, gentle and polite cousin Hero (Becci Gemmell) who immediately falls for Claudio, (played by local talent, Gerard Kearns), a young Count from Florence who has won favour for his efforts in the war.
The cast are impressively strong, the pace of the piece is spot on allowing the natural wit of the actors to shine. A twist on the traditional masquerade ball sees the entire cast jiving to a cover of Beyonce’s ‘Crazy In Love’ whilst wearing giant model heads of Beatrice and Benedick, perhaps a little out there for post war Italy but I personally loved it. Nice but dim Brummie guards Dogberry (Sandy Foster) and Verges (Beverly Rudd) were witty and entertaining, the use of the Cagney and Lacey theme tune to mark their entrances and exits offered up laughs a plenty.
Merle Hensel’s set is simple and effective; the use of the cast to shift scenes and furniture is both practical and creative. Lee Curran’s lighting design illuminates the unique space of the Exchange with style.
Although largely a comedy the dramatic scenes are powerful and intense. The wedding scene where Hero is shamed is particularly moving, Kearns portrays Claudio’s fury with passion, so, much so if I’d been on the front row I may well have scooped Hero up myself to comfort her. The relationship between Benedick and Beatrice really softens from this point in and the once barbed relationship blossoms.
Aberg and her very talented cast have succeeded in putting their wonderful, witty and quirky stamp on a much loved classic. Showing at the Royal Exchange until 3rd May.
Much Ado About Nothing