Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Globe
Shakespeare's Globe

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The Company Credit: Marc Brenner
Ekow Quartey as Benedick and Amalia Vitale as Beatrice Credit: Marc Brenner
Emma Ernest as Margaret, Amalia Vitale as Beatrice and Lydia Fleming as Hero Credit: Marc Brenner
Lydia Fleming as Hero, Adam Wadsworth as Claudio,Ryan Donaldson as Don Pedro and John Lightbody as Leonato Credit: Marc Brenner
Jonnie Broadbent as Dogberry Credit: Marc Brenner
The Company Credit: Marc Brenner

Sean Holmes's new production of Much Ado for the Globe (only two years after Lucy Bailey’s) is set in an olive grove outside the house of Leonato, the Governor of Messina, and Grace Smart has espaliered orange trees across the theatre’s scena, spread colour around the stage with overflowing baskets of oranges and blue-painted iron balconies, encircling its pillars in filled hearts with Sicilian sunshine, despite the damp day on the South Bank.

This is another lively and enjoyable version to give a kick start to Shakespeare’s Globe’s summer season. It looks loosely renaissance and definitely Italian, with soldiers wearing semi-classical armour, hose, doublets and breeches and full-skirted dresses and, after a burst of what sounds like Italian folksong, gets straight into the storytelling. Even before Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, and his soldiers, war being over, arrive as Leonato’s guests, we are told of past confrontations between their colleague Benedick and Leonato’s niece, Beatrice.

Family and friends will soon be plotting to convince each of that pair, sworn bachelor Benedick and no-nonense Beatrice, that the other is in love with them. At the same time, the Prince’s protégé, young Claudio, falls for Leonato’s daughter, Hero. While the older pair seem to find happiness, the malicious machinations of Don Pedro’s brother Don John cast a tragic shadow over the youngsters’ lives.

Amalia Vitale makes a delightfully quick-witted Beatrice, full of confidence, well matched with Ekow Quartey’s Benedick. Both of them seem to be playing up to other peoples’ expectations of them, a façade for two kind, sensitive souls. I couldn’t help wondering why he, alone of the men, was wearing a codpiece. Did he just not bother with fashion, or had this a semiotic sense I was missing?

Lydia Fleming’s Hero is all innocence, and, though Claudio may have proved himself in battle, Adam Wadsworth gives us his callow naïvety. Robert Mountford shows the sinister side of villainous Don John in contrast to his jovial brother Don Pedro (Ryan Donaldson). Until his evil plan starts to take effect, this is a show full of laughter and music. It is just as well that the Governor keeps an in-house band, for he will himself sing at the least excuse, making it doubly shocking when this easygoing man, believing her accusers, turns on his daughter in an attack that John Lightbody’s Leonato delivers with venom.

Shakespeare’s clowns (which in Hamlet he urges to stick to the script) sometimes seem incongruous to a modern audience, especially when, as here, they have an integral role in the plot, but they are helped by a production that often lets its characters speak straight to the audience, and Jonnie Broadbent’s Dogberry, Constable of the Nightwatch, so succeeds that on press night he got not just one but two exit rounds!

Sean Holmes's production sets out to ensure you enjoy yourself. It made time fly and warmed up a cold night, tricking you into believing that summer had already arrived.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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