Much Ado About Nothing
Sheffield Theatres / Ramps on The Moon
New Wolsey, Ipswich
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This is the latest in a series of Ramps on the Moon productions that, since 2016, have spanned an eclectic mix including The Government Inspector, Tommy and Oliver Twist.
The original remit of this project was to reinterpret classic work using an inclusive mix of deaf, neurodiverse, non-disabled and disabled actors and make it as accessible as possible to audiences of all abilities. The participating theatres each take a turn at producing the work, and this year Sheffield Theatre has been the lead venue.
Previous productions have used a chorus style of performance with predominantly physical theatre to perform the piece as well as signing, audio descriptions and captions. It’s quite a challenge therefore that director Robert Hastie and his team have set themselves to perform a Shakespeare play that is all about the subtleties of the repartee to make the comedy work, and whose language relies heavily on the way it is delivered to make sense of it in the modern day. But this 18-strong cast certainly give it a good go.
In this version, the play is updated to the 21st century with bright, modern costumes (but fortunately no mobile phones), and set outside Leonato and Antonia’s glass-fronted summer residence. The cast begin by gathering at the dinner table before spilling out onto the stage and all introducing themselves and describing what they wear before we finally begin the performance. The play then opens with the triumphant return of soldiers Prince Don Pedro and his newly appointed captain Claudio who plan to enjoy some time off at Leonato’s estate.
The plot revolves around the on/off relationship of Leonato’s ward Beatrice and returning soldier Benedick who have both sworn never to marry and whose witty sparring has so far prevented a love match. The other romantic thread is the intent of Claudio to woo and marry Leonato’s daughter Hero, which he is too shy and bashful to do.
Both sets of lovers have friends trying by various means to bring them together, but a plot by Don Pedro’s estranged sister Donna Joanna to smear Hero’s name and prevent her impending nuptials means the path of love does not run smooth until the plot is found out by the men of the Night Watch and joy is finally restored.
Beatrice and Benedick and are played with a lot of humour by an engaging Daneka Etchells and a suitably cheeky Guy Rhys. The second paring of Claire Wetherall as Hero and Taku Mutero as Claudio is delightful if a little underplayed. Dan Parr is outstanding as Don Pedro, whose excellent interpretation and stage presence often drives the play along. Gerard McDermott gives needed gravity to the part of Leonato.
The rest of the cast play a number of other characters—some sign or speak for others as well as voice characters of their own, and at times this got a bit confusing. The pace is quite frenetic too and Shakespeare aficionados might take issue with the constant modern injections into the script and some of the updated settings including a rather jarring masked hoe-down scene in the first half. It’s also often quite difficult to pick up the witty exchanges central to the plot in the way they are performed, with the mixture of interpretations sometimes getting in the way.
The second half relies more on the drama than the comedy and probably works better. The grief and anguish of Claudio and Hero is believable and Beatrice and Benedick’s final coming together is quite touchingly portrayed. Unfortunately, Caroline Parker’s Dogberry and Leo Farrell’s Verges are unnecessarily over the top and rather smother the comedy of their scenes.
But the cast as a whole work hard to bring the play to life—you certainly cannot doubt their commitment to the piece and the talent of many on stage—and the interjection of music and song composed by John Biddle and performed by Kit Kenneth as Balthasar adds an extra layer.
It’s quite long (90-minute first half and 75-minute second) but if you like your Shakespeare a bit different, or if you are coming to Much Ado fresh, then it’s worth giving this a go.
Reviewer: Suzanne Hawkes