Shakespeare’s Globe has started their summer 2022 season with a cracking production of the ever popular Much Ado About Nothing. Lucy Bailey’s production maintains Shakespeare’s traditional Italian villa setting but updates it to 1945. The production is fast moving, very funny and extremely comprehensible while retaining all the essential elements of the original text.
Joanna Parker’ s design conjures the exterior of an Italian villa with grassy banks and ivy-covered walls. The updating to 1945 provides the opportunity for some gorgeous period costumes supervised by Caroline Hughes and contemporary music played beautifully by an ensemble of five accordion players who moved around the stage accompanying the action.
Director Lucy Bailey makes extremely good use of the stage and takes full advantage of the proximity of the groundlings for extremely amusing elements of audience participation; at times it was difficult to know where to look to try to avoid missing anything.
The acting was universally strong. Lucy Phelps gave an extremely engaging, vivacious and physical performance as the feisty Beatrice, only slightly by marred by excessive arm movements. Ralph Davis was a great foil for her as the more staid Benedict. Shakespeare’s Leonarto and his brother Antonio had been feminised and Katy Stephens was a very dominant Leonarta, while her sister Antonia (Joanne Howarth) took on the role of gardener lurking behind many of the scenes with shears and wheelbarrow.
The cast and the director had done their best to extract every ounce of comedy out of the text and the audience was laughing heartily from the very beginning. Rather strangely, the traditionally comic scenes of the Watch did not create as much hilarity as is normally the case. George Fouracres’ Dogberry was a subtle performance of man clearly out of his depth, rather than the brash idiot often portrayed. It was unfortunate that the interrogation of the suspects holding onto a long piece of rope was ridiculous rather than funny.
Don Juan the villain of the piece, is often an understated character, but in this production, Oliver Huband stood out, dressed mafioso style, in a smart suit and hat. Finally, special mention must be made of Philip Cumbus, who had to step into the role of Borachio on press night at the last minute, for a performance which did nothing to detract from the overall production.
It was very good to see a production at the Globe taking full advantage of that special location and delivering a performance which should be a delight to newcomers to the Bard’s work as well as long-standing devotees.
Playing until 23rd October, visit https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/whats-on/much-ado-about-nothing-2022/ for dates, times and tickets.
Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd
Reviewed: 29th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★