Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakespeare
Stratford Festival
Stratford Festival Theatre

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Maev Beaty as Beatrice and Graham Abbey as Benedick Credit: David Hou
Allison Edwards-Crewe, Austin Eckert, Patrick McManus and Akosua Amo-Adem Credit: David Hou
André Sills, Austin Eckert and Patrick McManus Credit: David Hou

Chris Abraham’s 2½-hour production of this much-loved comedy classic will please, being frequently both funny and dramatic.

Everything is writ large, with a sizeable cast in period dress eager for laughs but capably switching to the more serious, while always conscious of, and interacting with, a packed audience, filmed during the run last summer in the Festival Theatre.

The prologue gives a sign of things to come, featuring raunchy feminist musings delivered with great wit by Maev Beaty’s Beatrice. These are the first of many interpolations penned by Erin Shields to supplement the traditional text.

In particular, Ms Shields and Chris Abraham take pains to enhance the comedy, which can sometimes result in what feels like an overly rich meal. Not only do we get most of the original writer’s wit but many additional verbal and physical gags, bringing some scenes close to screwball comedy.

As ever, the high point of the early scenes features the jousting between Beatrice and Graham Abbey playing Benedick. This culminates in the paired comedies, as each is gulled by their closest friends with hilarious results.

This acting duo is particularly well matched, gradually transforming from a comedy double act into reluctantly wooing lovers whose mutual appreciation eventually overcomes their equally acid tongues.

The evening really hits its stride after the interval as a pair of younger lovers, Austin Eckert as Claudio and Allison Edwards-Crewe portraying Hero, find the path of true love to be almost impenetrably rocky. They are led to this by Michael Blake playing an impressively chilling Don John.

The younger pairing shine in the play’s pivotal dramatic scene, delivering convincing threats and defences, egged on by Hero’s Father Leonato and princely Don Pedro, respectively Patrick McManus and André Sills.

While the comedy can occasionally go too far over the top, particularly during scenes featuring a loud, manic watch, overall, Chris Abraham and his team balance a desire to pay homage to one of the Bard’s finest plays with gentle updating that inserts lines and even scenes, the general thrust of which is to put forward a more modern, feminine point of view.

Maev Beaty and Graham Abbey, both of whom excel, lead a really strong cast that is complemented by a guitar-led musical trio.

Those who do not know the play will undoubtedly be seduced by this rollicking comedy, while viewers more familiar with the text should find it both innovative and enjoyable.

This video is available on the newly revamped and relaunched Stratfest@home web site in assorted formats up to the crystal clear 4K. The library is expanded and the pricing is just £6.44 per month or £64.47 for an annual subscription. It is a great treasure trove that will give fans of high-quality theatre hours of pleasure.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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