MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
A Made in Colchester production
at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester
for The Reviews Hub
No hint of the romance or sunshine of Messina here. We're in the spartan canteen of a British regiment – motto Perfer et Obdura. There's a telly in the corner, a servery, tables for mess and for ping-pong.
A chorus of Homeward Bound, and Don Pedro marches his men in, to be greeted by Essex girl would-be military wives.
It's a bold concept, and Pia Furtado's production does bring some modern insights to what is often considered a romantic comedy. But the 21st century is not a perfect fit, the quick-witted banter sits uneasily amidst the non-verbal popular culture, and of course these men are career soldiers, not aristocratic adventurers. And the harsh lighting casts distracting shadows across faces in the closer confrontations.
But the mischief and the music are very much to the fore. The fancy dress party, with genuinely impenetrable disguises, and the karaoke Sigh No More, are both very successful, (composer is Rebecca Applin) even if there's a bit too much aimless cavorting to pulsing disco beats. The gulling scenes are hampered a little by a lack of camouflage in the canteen – the pleached bower for Beatrice has to be brought on in pots, and Benedick's arbour is a ledge above the servery, where he later dons a tabard and some marigolds. The plot to discredit Hero is brilliantly done, with a borrowed bridal gown in flagrante on the upper level.
After the interval – well into Act Four – things are much darker, both literally and emotionally. The grim reality of the canteen is replaced by a dreamlike shrine to the “dead” Hero. The Madonna – and the bath – have moved down from the light boxes above. The lament at the tomb is movingly sung by the whole company, and the final wedding disco affords an upbeat ending, though, given the effective changes of mood in this production, it's a shame that the party-pooping news of Don John's capture is one of the few significant cuts.
Some lovely performances on offer: Peter Bray and Robyn Cara (making her professional début) are young, ardent lovers, Polly Lister a brooding villain, though the gender switch seems awkward. Paul Ridley brings gravitas to the older officer, and Emmy Stonelake makes the most of the impassioned Friar. Kirsty J Curtis is Hero's maid, Margaret, a typical TOWIE young lady, chewing gum and glottal stops. (Generally the text is well served, although “Yeah” for “Yea” grates.)
The hi-viz vigilantes of the Watch eschew slapstick and easy laughs, and there's a sad lack of chemistry between Danielle Flett's Beatrice and Jason Langley's Benedick, though they bring clarity and passion to the verse, and Flett does a lovely lapwing.
Some striking stage pictures in the later scenes, and the undeniable local resonance, are not quite enough to make this a memorable Much Ado.