A huge freight carriage blocks the rear of the stage; a cloud scape above gradually fills with peons, armed, dirty and tired who settle and doze; musicians strum quietly as a roar builds, steam hisses and the train starts to simulate movement, writes Liz Carlin…
An impressive start, establishing we are in Mexico, not Messina, and Don Pedro, Benedick and Claudio will be arriving from skirmishes in the revolution to be received at the house of Leonato (the scenery now a house with doors and windows, not a freight car) and begin the wooing of Hero and the battle between Benedick and Beatrix.
Don Pedro’s malevolent sibling is female, Juana, well played by Jo Dockery with a sour face throughout. The whole is to be filmed by an American film crew, led by Dog Berry (Ewan Wardrop) with hilarious ineptitude.
Servants scurry about, shouting, laughing, a stretcher bearing a bloody and groaning guerrilla is carried in and taken into the house by the ladies.
In a very impressive moment, the heroes arrive back from the war through the auditorium on simulated horses and wearing stilts, a brilliant and effective piece of design.
As the principles are introduced and the plot gets underway, the mating rituals are presented with a wonderful and colourful dance scene of carnival flamboyance and intensity.
This was the Globe at its best. The acting is consistently good and often very good with Matthew Needham as Benedick standing out throughout.
He was well matched by Beatriz Romilly who played this gift of a part with aplomb. They were very ably supported by the whole company whose energy never flagged in this most physically demanding production.
The exception here was Steve John Shepherd who gave the most laid-back Don Pedro I have ever seen! Very attractive! Action was also moved to the centre of the pit at times.
Juana and Bassano hatch the plot to entrap Hero there, cleverly moving Juana even farther to the edge of the community. Good too to put the scenes at the mock grave of Hero there, firstly as Leonato dramatically struggles back and forth from below stage with stones and a cross and then when Claudio sings as the light in the auditorium fades.
Matthew Dunster’s production is very enjoyable and holds the attention throughout.
Anna Fleischer’s designs are ingenious and James Maloney’s music a delight. The action can fit well a post war situation anywhere but the aggressive battle song with which the production concluded was not led up to in any way.
The filmic subplot was a clever modernising technique, and very funny, but went on a bit too long, as did the scene between the “mounted” Don Pedro and Claudio talking to Leonato in the second act where what had been impressive when first seen became tedious as they manoeuvred about the stage.
But it is a very clever and ingenious reworking of the play and overall, the audience left happy and the performance was roundly applauded.
Much Ado About Nothing
Until October 15th at 7.30pm with Friday & Sunday matinees.
Admission: Yard £5; Gallery £20 – £45.
020 7401 9919