Much Ado About Nothing – 5 stars

People’s Theatre, Newcastle.

In his programme notes, director Tony Childs writes: “It’s easy to see how Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s best loved comedies”, and The People’s production of it is everything a Shakespeare comedy should be: clever, witty, stylish, and very funny.

The pace never lets up for a moment. The whole company of actors work as a real ensemble, creating with relish this courtly society of Messina and all the ‘ado’ that takes place within it, whether it be the publicly formal courting of Hero by Claudio, the constant verbal duelling of Benedick and Beatrice, or the menacing villainy of the jealous Don John. All the characters are fully rounded, and draw us into their world from the very beginning.

The direction, by Childs and Peter Harrison, is assured, and makes full use of all the nooks and crannies of an impressive set, designed by Harrison and Sands Dobson.

It is unfair to single out any individual performance in this production, as the whole cast portray their characters with skill, talent, and total believability. However, it’s impossible to write about Much Ado without commenting on Benedick and Beatrice and the constant “skirmish of wit between them”.

Craig Fairbairn and Sara Jo Harrison pull off these intelligent and outrageously witty characters with consummate ease. Their back-and-forth verbal fencing crackles with energy. The scenes in which they are unwittingly duped by their friends into believing that the other is actually in love with them are very funny – physically as well as verbally. And in the dramatic wedding scene where they finally declare their love for each other in earnest, they manage to portray a subtle vulnerability and at the same time a steely determination that takes the play to its climax. (As the Friar in this scene, Gordon Russell’s performance is also worthy of note. Mature, assured and beautifully understated.)

But, as I say, this is not a production about individual performances; the whole company work as a real ensemble to produce a cracking piece of theatre. If you know the play well, this is certainly worth seeing as a first rate rendition of it. If you don’t, then this is the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to it. Another triumph by the People’s Theatre.

(originally posted 11 March 2015)

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