MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 3rd April 2022
Michael Barry sets his Much Ado in the Regency period, like the popular series on Netflix. For the most part, it’s an excellent fit, with the exterior manners and elegance a suitable setting for Shakespeare’s wittiest rom-com. This is Bridgerton in looks and feel, but with an infinitely better script! Barry’s set design has two plastered columns framing the upstage area, the bases of which have cracked to reveal the brickwork beneath, representing the truth beneath the surface. It’s a clever detail.
The ever-excellent Jack Hobbis gives us his Benedick, complete with mutton-chops and poufy hair. He is Mr Darcy, an upright romantic hero with a quick wit and a big heart. Hobbis does an admirable job and you can’t help falling for him. Naomi Jacobs’s Beatrice has the acid tongue and merry wit down pat, but she’s a little too loud for the studio setting, delivering all her lines at full volume – sometimes going up to 11. A bit more variance and she’d be perfect.
Andrew Elkington makes for a posing, preening Claudio, all righteous indignation in the pivotal church scene, and thoroughly detestable afterwards, until his redemption, of course; a pretty face masking his petulance and objectionable self-righteousness. Spot on! Also great is Papa Yentumi as Don Pedro, the fun-loving prince, at ease with his high status and game for a laugh. As his bastard brother, Tom Lowde gives us a volatile Don John, but he needs not to race through some of his lines so we can enjoy his evil nature all the more.
Man of the match for my money is Mark Payne as Leonato, effortlessly convincing throughout, and electrifyingly emotional in that church scene.
Suzie King’s Hero contrasts sweetly with the acerbic Beatrice, and there is solid support from Skye Witney as Antonia, Jessica Terry as Margaret, Colette Nooney as Ursula, and James Browning as the villainous Borachio.
I’m afraid though the Dogberry scenes don’t quite come off. Ben Pugh could make more of the constable’s bombast, building him up more so he can deflate further. There are more laughs to be gained here. The Watch scenes seem clumsily staged. Perhaps there were council tax cutbacks in Messina at the time, but surely they could stretch to at least a third Watchman.
There is lovely music, all piano and strings, by Salwan Cartwright-Shamoon, but there at times when it is intrusive, detracting from the action rather than supporting it.
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating, the phenomenal Costume Department at the Crescent goes all out to create beautiful and accurate clothes to suit the world of the production. Designer Jennet Marshall has excelled herself here, and credit is due to her team: Carolyn Bourne, Anne Hignell, Stewart Snape, Rose Snape, and Pat Brown, for the stunning array of uniforms, posh frocks and tailored coats on display.
A great-looking production that hits most of its marks, featuring some excellent performances by its leads.
☆ ☆ ☆ ½