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Much Ado About Nothing

By William Shakespeare

Royal Shakespeare Company & Chichester Festival Theatre

Opera House, Manchester

26 November 2016

Lisa Dillon and Edward Bennett in Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Lisa Dillon and Edward Bennett in Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Manuel Harlan

The second of two romantic comedies currently doing the rounds (the first being Love’s Labour’s Lost), this production is a munificent triumph.

If abrasive banter is your breed of comedy, there is pedigree aplenty to be found in the rapacious duel between Benedick (Edward Bennett) and Beatrice (Lisa Dillon). In the exploits of Dogberry (Nick Haverson) and his colleagues, who are here cast as village Bobbies, there is scope for precision-choreographed slapstick also.

All the action is driven by intrigue, whether it be the diabolical machinations of Don John (Sam Alexander), a disgruntled soldier, or the sly matchmaking of Don Pedro (John Hodgkinson), Cupid’s co-conspirator, or even the worldly-wise ministrations of Friar Francis (Jamie Newall), who hits upon a scheme to reignite the divine flame of love in the heart of Claudio (Tunji Kasim). Everyone is hyped up, ever so slightly deranged. There is a frenetic edge to it all, as in all the great farces.

They have set the two comedies in 1914 and 1918, at the start and end of the First World War, in an Elizabethan manor house modelled on Charlecote Park. This adds a tragic edge to the jollity, but jollity there undoubtedly is: Shakespeare’s songs are sung in an Ivor Novello style, by a crooner at a piano; Beatrice is a spirited flapper who dances the Charleston.

Much Ado About Nothing is breathless entertainment and quite touching at moments as well. Go and give yourself an early Christmas treat!

Much Ado about Nothing and Love’s Labour’s Lost are at the Opera House in Manchester until 3 December, then they play at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London until March 2017. Details here.