The RSCs ambitious Complete Works Festival is well over half way through and, though it hasnt always hit its targets, it has delivered some exciting and delightful productions over the last few months. Fortunately for those who havent been able to make it up to Stratford, some of the most interesting productions are now making their way down to London.
Marianne Elliotts highly entertaining Much Ado About Nothing is the first of three productions to open in the Novello Theatre. (Antony and Cleopatra and The Tempest, both starring Patrick Stewart, will follow in the new year).
Its a rich, lavish production, full of colour and song. Elliott has set her Much Ado in pre-revolutionary Cuba though this is more an excuse to fill the play with Latin rhythms and atmosphere, than to add any political overtones. This seductive quality is enhanced by Lez Brotherstons excellent, evocative set.
Much Ado concerns two very different women: the sweet, demure Hero and the difficult, sharp-tongued Beatrice. Hero is bethrothed to the dashing Count Claudio but Beatrice claims to want nothing to do with marriage. She appears to feel only scorn for Benedick, a man who professes that he is equally content with his status as a bachelor. Naturally, and despite their protestations to the contrary, it is obvious to everyone that they are deeply in love.
Tamsin Greig is an interesting casting choice as Beatrice, but one that pays off. Once the perfect comic foil to Bill Bailey and Dylan Moran in the brilliant Black Books, she subsequently became irritatingly ubiquitous, playing pretty much the same gawky-but-loveable character in numerous television shows, including the vastly overrated Green Wing. Yet though she overplays in the earlier scenes, she has a nice chemistry with Joseph Millson’s Benedick, and excels in the scenes when she eavesdrops on Hero (in particularly a lovely moment of slapstick with a Vespa).
The rest of the cast are equally strong. Patrick Robinson makes a compelling and charismatic Don Pedro (his haunted expression during the plays otherwise joyous closing scenes speaks volumes). And the viciousness and cruelty of Adam Rayner when his Count Claudio shames Hero at the altar, as a result of her purported unfaithfulness, makes plausible Beatrices empassioned plea for Benedick to kill him. Bette Bourne meanwhile keeps the Dogberry scenes just the right side of irritating, though despite his efforts, these interludes do drag on somewhat.
This is not the deepest nor the most powerful production of Shakespeares comedy youll ever see, but its not trying to be. Instead Elliott has created something warm and magical; fun, and perhaps a little frivilous, not that it matters. This is a tremendously entertaining production, skillfully executed, and its just a shame its only in London for a few short weeks