Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakespeare
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
(2005)

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A start to Samuel West's artistic directorship of the Crucible, as he takes the role of Benedick in this production of Much Ado directed by Josie Rourke. We start with a view of Leonato's verandah where a woman polishes a pair of boots while another sweeps the floor. It is unfortunate that a delayed start means the boots get really shiny and the floor well swept. Sheets hanging on the line add to the domestic atmosphere, though one has to wonder about the frequent use of steam drifting down from above. As the victorious army, led by Don Pedro, returns to Messina, the place is flooded with soldiery, uniformly dressed, naturally, but it does make it tricky to sort out some of the major characters of the play.

The story develops with zest, making full use of every inch of the Crucible thrust stage, with a particularly active Beatrice, demonstrating all the sparkle and bitterness of her attitude towards the confirmed bachelor soldier, Benedick. In the meantime, Claudio, also in uniform, and Duke Pedro, also in uniform, encourage the relationship between Claudio and Hero, egged on by her father, Leonato. The evening is all set for a warm comfortable well organised family celebration. Then the bastard - well, that's what they call him - Don John, who does not give enough of the impression of the ugly, lethal and manipulative soldier as he proves to be, begins his destruction of the happiness.

The play revolvs round the issue of not believing everything you hear, because if you do, major trouble ensues. However, we then have what one might call Sally's army as Women of the Watch, though their person in charge is not called Bitchberry. They provide the evidence to undo the wrongs, and give Benedick the option to renege on his decisions.

Direction by Josie Rourke results in a tough battle between the sexes, with the more powerful women characters standing up for their rights in the face of male denigration, whether deserved or not. It is taken at speed, sometimes too fast to grasp the complex flow of words that Shakespeare provides. While not a 'Must see at all Costs' it is an interesting outing on which to speculate about the rest of the Crucible season.

"Much Ado" runs at the Crucible until 5th November

Reviewer: Philip Seager