Much Ado About Nothing has been brought triumphantly to life by a director Simon Dormandy who knows what he is doing. Working with a clear vision of the play Simon has set Much Ado in a luxury spa hotel in contemporary Sicily. His version is a cross between The Godfather and Fawlty Towers. The play moves between these two worlds, The Sicilian Mafia and English bedroom farce, seamlessly. The effect is to create a version of Much Ado that gets just right the darker aspects of the play, patriarchy, violence and the mistreatment of women – and the exhilarating comedy. It’s a dark comedy where the tragic potential is peeped into but where ultimately the comic impulses triumph. This is no easy trick to pull off and so Simon Dormandy and his team are to be congratulated for managing it. Crucial to the success of a most entertaining and enjoyable evening is Naomi Dawson’s stunning set.
The foyer area of the hotel Messina (cleverly echoing Shakespeare’s Messina harbour) provides the perfect flexible space for the action and the upper-level acts as a hotel bedroom. Much Ado has two plots. The serious plot involves a young couple Hero (Kate Lamb) and Claudio (Calam Lynch) who get married in the traditional way. That is the marriage is arranged by the Elders. In this case Leonato ( David Rintoul) Hero’s father and Don Pedro (Peter Guinness) who acts as Claudio’s Father. At this point, Much Ado becomes Othello as an Iago like jealous villain Don Pedro, brilliantly brought to life by Peter Bray, concocts a plan to slander Hero as unfaithful. The comic plot pitches two convinced singletons in a head-to-head battle of wits to tear strips off each other.
Beatrice ( Mel Giedroyc) and Benedick ( John Hopkins) are superb in a Basil and Sybil Fawlty Towers comic masterclass. Some of the best comedy in Much Ado is derived from the tennis match banter between these two and how they are tricked into falling for each other. The scene in which Beatrice, wearing a white apron smeared in blood and holding a large knife calls Benedick into dinner is a showstopper. How to weave these two plots together?
The answer a Dad’s Army like Night Watch of bumbling incompetents led by the outstanding Stewart Wright as Constable Dogberry and Sam Dastor as Verges his deputy. The mispronunciations and malapropisms that ensue are justly famous. Stewart Wright’s rendering of Respect my Office as Suspect my Orifice being one of many such delightful mangling’s of the English language. But in a comic masterstroke Shakespeare has the watch uncover the plot to frame Hero and as Borachio (Nicholas Prasad) one of the conspirators admits to Don Pedro ‘what your wisdoms could not discover, these shallow fools have brought to light’. Simon Dormandy has brought out the comic effervescences of Much Ado as if he were a flourishing a stick whilst walking, in the full flow of comic inspiration, a sort of exuberance of hilarity which resembles a conductor, distributing a portion of gladness to the surrounding air. I urge you to get down to Kingston and sample some gladness.
Review by John O’Brien
Beneath its witty surface, Much Ado About Nothing is a powerful exploration of the struggle for love, identity and self-knowledge in a male-dominated world – as relevant today as ever. The Rose’s production will use Shakespeare’s language in a sharp contemporary setting that not only offers glorious opportunities for physical comedy amid the furnishings of a spa hotel but also provides a social context that enhances the darker themes in this timeless comic gem.
Mel Giedroyc as Beatrice and John Hopkins as Benedick, Peter Bray (Don John/House Clerk), Sam Dastor (Antonio/Verges), Peter Guinness (Don Pedro), Victoria Hamnett (Margaret/Watchman), Kate Lamb (Hero), Calam Lynch (Claudio), Caolan McCarthy (Conrad/Friar), Nicholas Prasad (Borachio), David Rintoul (Leonato), Katherine Toy (Ursula/Hugh Oatcake), Stewart Wright (Dogberry) and Silas Wyatt-Barke (Balthazar/George Seacole).
The play reunites Mel Giedroyc with director Simon Dormandy after their collaboration on the UK première of Luce by JC Lee in 2016.
Rose Theatre Kingston, Granville & Parham Productions and Antic Face present
Much Ado About Nothing
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Simon Dormandy; Set & Costume Designer: Naomi Dawson
Lighting Designer: Paul Pyant; Composer & Sound Designer: Jon Nicholls
Casting Director: Sarah Bird