Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Max Webster
Reviewer: David Sedgwick
Whoever said Shakespeare isn’t funny ought to bring their fold-up chairs and picnic baskets to the verdant setting of Liverpool’s Calderstones Park, where The Globe’s production of Much Ado About Nothing is currently touring. For this is one production that goes a long way to proving that Shakespearean comedy does not necessarily need to be an acquired taste.
There is always something rather timeless about Shakespeare outdoors, in the English summer. Who can resist the smell of roses and the tinkle of wine glasses? The very trees seem infused with poesy. Even critics succumb to its magic, And you can’t really go too far wrong with Much Ado… Correction you can make a right old hash of it if you’re not careful. There’s a lot of fun to be had with this play. But it needs a gentle touch.
Textually, it is a genuinely witty play and judging by the amount of chuckles and guffaws emanating from the environs of Calderstones, it’s arguably the bard’s funniest play. It’s certainly no mean feat to have the audience in stitches after a mere four centuries have passed. Having said that to extract that comedy requires a level of performance and direction of the utmost deftness. The laughs are all hard-earned.
And this is the where the Globe come into their own. All eight members of the cast perform their multiple parts with aplomb. Prior to the tour the company spent a whole week of rehearsal time simply exploring every nuance of character and motivation, wrestling with multifarious interpretations. And it shows.
Performances exude an air of confidence borne of a real empathy towards character. One feels the actors do actually fully inhabit their rôles on this simple yet very effective miniature version of the Globe stage. Trite as it may sound, but it is belief and belief alone that separates the outstanding productions of Shakespeare from the forgettable. And this cast believe. Oh how they believe. And thus the ingredients are all there for an evening of enchantment. Simon Bubb plays Benedick as he should be played, with barrel loads of charm, a cross between Matthew Kelly (yes, that Matthew Kelly) and at times Hugh Laurie rakishness. Emma Pallant’s Beatrice meanwhile is a master class of complexity; shrewish and wilful yet tinged with vulnerability.
Indeed this ensemble cast manage to do something that many companies attempt to do with Shakespeare but often fail: they make each and every line intelligible. This Much Ado then is nothing if not accessible. Yet the play still ripples with profundity, still revels in linguistic musicality and still dazzles with intellectual dexterity. Seasoned and casual observers will both be appeased.
While so many productions from Shakespeare grandees such as those at Stratford and the South Bank so often flatter to deceive, raising expectations that frankly can never be fulfilled, with this production of Much Ado, the folk at the Globe have gone some way to proving that reputation is now and again – to wilfully misquote Iago – gained through merit.
Photo: Bronwen Sharp | Runs until the 14th June