by Harry Elletson
Shakespeare’s tales have been told and re-told an incalculable number of times in thousands of different ways. In Not Cricket Productions’ version of the famous Much Ado About Nothing, the audience are transported to July 1918, in the midst of World War I as soldiers return from war. This interpretation is supported by beautifully executed period costumes that help set the mood effortlessly; Felicity Stephenson has once again provided a set of costumes that compliment each other perfectly.
Aside from this, there are moments in this production where this re-interpretation of the text feels slightly forced, and under-explained. By hanging large Union Jacks on the stage and singing a famously British military anthem at the beginning of the play, it felt clearly suggested that England was where this interpretation was being placed. However, on the flyers handed out at the beginning of the show, advertising a march for Women’s Votes, the location was labelled as Messina, the original location of the play in Italy. This slightly muddied the clarity of the play world. In addition to this, the placement of songs throughout the performance felt superfluous to the telling of the story, and could perhaps have been used more wisely, to cover up transitions that at times felt long and undercut the pace.
A stronger focus on clear storytelling would have helped this production a great deal, because at times it felt like the audience were playing catch up with the actors. Dialogue was spoken very quickly, and large bodies of exposition weren’t given the weight they needed to make the story clear. However, it must be said that the characters Don Pedro (Hannah Forsyth) and Leonato (Harry Benjamin) were the exceptions to this rule. They commanded the stage excellently and really made sure that every part of what they had to say was clear. In particular during the Benedick gulling scene, alongside Claudio (Cullum Ball) these three actors navigated the difficulty of this dialogue beautifully, keeping us engaged when it can often be difficult to battle the physical comedy of Benedick’s reactions.
A cornerstone of this play is the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice, two of Shakespeare’s wittiest lovers (played by Max Manning and Kate Stephenson). Sadly, in this production it feels slightly like the comedic potential of this famous duo was lost. Not that there wasn’t merit in each of their individual performances, but their scenes would have benefited from allowing the audience more time to follow the extremely witty dialogue these characters are famous for bouncing between each other.
However, this was a very entertaining and enjoyable performance of one of Shakespeare’s much loved plays, and is sure to provide an evening of light-hearted entertainment for the whole family, something Not Cricket is justly famous for.