Wednesday, December 7

Much Ado About Nothing – Birmingham Rep

I always approach Shakespeare tentatively. Not that he’s not good. In fact, I’ve heard many reports that’s he’s one of the best, but I just don’t have the ear for his words. I have trouble keeping up. So, being a thoroughly professional reporter and not wanting to lose the thread or the point or the plot, I chose to bone up prior and read up in the plot. I needed have bothered.

Robert Hastie’s production made the entire plot easily and clearly accessible with a proliferation of signing, signage and surtitles designed to include just about everyone in this all-inclusive, highly-accessible, disability-friendly production. Despite some of the bard’s more esoteric images and clunky metaphors the notions, ideas and thoughts came over crystal clear easily vaulting the Shakespearean language barrier. It was a delight to see how deftly and adroitly each piece of sign language was woven in the choreography of the play not banished to the side in a single cold spotlight as we usually see. Audio description, usually found in solitary headphones, was shared amongst the cast as they embellished the story with explanation of clothes, colours and scenery. And, of course, the surtitles which stood aloft allowing the audience to follow every word and, joyfully, allowed the occasional actor to remind themselves of the text whenever they fluffed.

Photo: Johan Persson

Daneka Etchells was a perfect Beatrice negotiating her relationship with the laid-back and very naturalistic Guy Rhys as Benedick. Fatima Neimogha gave us a surly and deceitful Donna Joanna and Caroline Parker, clad is shocking pink, tottering on ludicrous high-heels, was a delightfully comic Dogberry. Some Bard fans would note some cross-gender casting there which only added to the fun and frolics and didn’t detract for one second.

Ramps on the Moon is not a company I know but one I would like to get to know better. There’s clearly an agenda here to make all accessibility more accessible for everyone. The surtitles were not only for those of hard-hearing but those, like me, were don’t have Bard-friendly ears. The audience was full of people clearly very supportive of not only the show but also the company’s intentions. This is the kind of theatre I’d like to see much more of. Not one-off signed performances in a long run but considered, integrated ideas woven into the fabric of the piece and then weaving it all into a play so old, so classic and so often revived offers a much welcome wake-up call of how theatre can be delivered in the new century.

Reviewer: Peter Kinnock

Reviewed: 5th October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★