Pros: A silent but expressive, accordion-toting Verges
Cons: Too many cicadas
It’s common these days to watch ‘high’ culture in a ‘low’ setting: Mayerling at the local multiplex, Hamlet on catch-up, in PJs. Watching Antic Disposition’s Much Ado About Nothing is the opposite experience. It’s a sort of cheesy sitcom (with shades of honour killing), in the pannelled and stained-glassed splendour of Gray’s Inn Hall.
This cheesy sitcom is set in France, 1945. There are pretty girls in tea dresses and there are sunflowers, a mulish paysan waits the red-checked tables of the town square café and the cicadas are in full voice. You can almost smell the lavender. Though Don Pedro and his posse wear uniform, they’re very dapper in it, and the aftermath of war sits as lightly on them as it does on Leonato’s household. This is 1945 in style only.
Ben Horslen and John Risebero have taken a very firm hand with the text, so everything moves along at a brisk pace. The first half is bright and sunny, full of banter and camaraderie, matchmaking and high jinx. Almost too sweet for this tooth, although Don John, terrifyingly reminiscent of Dominic Raab, injects a bit of malice.
The second half is more varied and interesting. Beatrice and Benedick become more likeable as they become more sincere, and there is a collective aaah when they finally get it together. Tommy Burgess gives a lovely turn as a mouthy English yob, there is a suitably ominous remix of the wedding march and the canned cicadas are finally silenced. Best of all, Dogberry, Verges and the Watch are reinvented as stupid French yokels with very few lines but plenty of goofy silent comedy and an amusing catchphrase (‘c’est pas possible…’). Having characters provide their own music really adds to the festive scenes, and the sung requiem for Hero is a particularly powerful moment.
Like Antic Disposition’s Comedy of Errors a couple of years ago, this production is super clear, funny, digestible and visually delightful; the novice’s perfect introduction to Shakespeare. It is also insubstantial and ultimately a rather fleeting pleasure.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Ben Horslen and John Riseboro
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: https://www.anticdisposition.co.uk/much-ado-2018.html
Booking until: 1 September 2018