Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Stephen Joseph Theatre

Northern Broadsides’ latest production of Much Ado About Nothing sits firmly in the world of the 1940s. From its first moments, it submerges the audience in the period. Musical call-backs to the Andrews Sisters and comic pastiches to the time, dismiss any doubts that the audience might have about the relevance of the play to wartime Britain.

Conrad Nelson’s restaging is excellent. The production is dynamic and fluid, ricocheting riotously through a plethora of comic set pieces. Any pauses in the action are carefully manoeuvred round. It has been a long time since I have seen audiences applaud comic sequences as though they are musical numbers. That is not to say that Nelson has ignored the play’s darker elements, far from it, the management of dark and shade is excellent. I will say that some of the darker scenes are slower than other moments but this is more a credit to the development of tension in the production than any issue with the pacing.

From the biggest parts to the smaller character roles, the cast of this comedy fully justify the title of company. It is difficult to ascribe the success of any given comic moment to any one actor. Robin Simpson’s Benedict is raucously funny. He draws the audience into the production, sometimes literally.

Occasionally, Isobel Middleton fails to keep up, as Beatrice, but those occasions are very rare. Middleton produces a powerful dramatic as well as comedic performance which gives the production a cast iron heart. The onstage interplay between Middleton and Sarah Kameela-Impey’s Hero makes me wish that Shakespeare had given more stage time to the friendship so essential to the action of the play.

Kameela-Impey and Linford Johnson do not entirely succeed in infusing personality into Hero and Claudio, admittedly one of Shakespeare’s more insipid pairs of lovers. What both manage though, is to underpin the comic play with heart and pathos. It is hard not to empathise with Kameela-Impey’s breakdown at Hero’s wedding or Johnson’s stoic misery towards the end of the play.

Special mention should also be made of the Prince’s watch who march onto the stage as a comically incompetent home guard. This rag-tag group have the house howling with laughter.

To a certain extent, it is difficult to go wrong with Shakespeare, there is a reason that these plays have sustained for hundreds of years, we know that they work. This production, however, entirely justifies the pulling power of the title. It brilliantly employs the play’s subtler undertones while still accentuating every comic beat to the fullest.

Much Ado About Nothing is touring until May 25. For more information, see the Northern Broadsides website.