Review: Much Ado About Nothing at Theatre Royal Haymarket
Written for Everything Theatre
Much Ado About Nothing is without doubt one of Shakespeare’s more popular plays, and this particular incarnation was a successful venture for the Royal Shakespeare Company when it premiered two years ago. Teamed up with Love’s Labour’s Lost, this Much Ado (or Love’s Labour’s Won, as the RSC also call it) is set in the early 20th century. Whereas the first play is set before the First World War, the latter sees the soldiers just returning from the front. Perhaps that sounds a bit grim, but don’t worry: director Christopher Luscombe keeps things (mostly) firmly comedic.
Much Ado follows the misadventures of Benedick and Beatrice, two lovers who are rather more unwilling than star-crossed. While their friends and family try every trick in the book to get the two together, the relationship between Beatrice’s cousin Hero and Benedick’s friend Claudio turns rocky as the nefarious Don John decided to interfere.
Lisa Dillon and Edward Bennett make for a good Beatrice and Benedick, although each is more convincing as their individual character than as part of the couple. Bennett’s excellent physical comedy commands plenty of laughs, whereas Dillon brings a more serious note to Beatrice with her very palpable anger at the limits society sets upon her as a woman. The star of the show, however, has to be Nick Haverson as the hapless police officer Dogberry; his clowning is a sight to behold, but he also has a surprisingly moving moment towards the end of the play as it appears that not everyone has been lucky enough to escape the trenches unscathed. It’s a sobering reminder that fits in well with the darker undercurrent of the play, which Luscombe shows without letting it intrude too much on the fun and frothiness.
At this point I have a bit of confession to make: I saw this show when it was on at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon originally. I already very much enjoyed it then, but the thing that stayed with me the most was a slightly silly detail: a snooker table came up on a platform and was perfectly, precisely lit up at exactly the right moment. It was the one and only time I’ve experienced a set change getting a round of applause. Sadly that particular prop didn’t make it to London, but Simon Higlett’s set with roll-out dining room is still absolutely gorgeous in all its glorious detail. It’s also decked out with an enormous Christmas tree, which a) is good for the festive spirit and b) provides some excellent comedy. But I’ll let you find that out for yourself.
In my opinion, Much Ado is one of those plays that are almost impossible to screw up. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the RSC have done an excellent job here, with a very solid production that’s perhaps not ground-breaking, but does feature some inspired new touches. I certainly wouldn’t object to seeing it a third time. Or a fourth.
Much Ado About Nothing is playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 18 March 2017