Much Ado About Nothing. Tobacco Factory, Bristol.
Soldiers, snogging and songs mark Much Ado About Nothing as a youthful and vibrant show at the Factory Theatre in Bristol. A dramatic wartime opening sees Don Jon stripped of his rank and Claudio decorated for bravery helping to explain the motives behind Don Jon’s plan to wreck the wedding of Claudio and Hero.
In Elizabeth Freestone’s blokish production of William Shakespeare’s comedy none of the humour or romance is lost. Set in the here and now in modern dress the play is noted for the speed and clarity of the narrative which can in the wrong hands confuse anyone who does not know the story.
Don Jon played by Georgia Frost brought the villain to life, not as the pantomime baddie but as a complex, confused and opportunist character. Louise Mai Newberry was excellent in several roles including a health and safety office, a job’s worth Dogberry and a strong singer.
For those familiar with the 1993 movie in which Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thomson starred as the sparring lovers Benedick and Beatrice will have wondered how the sunlit lands of Sicily where the story is set could be staged. Jean Chan design opted for minimalism in part due to the play being staged in the round and to keep the stripped down tone of the production which concentrated on the characters and story. There was party bunting and a scattering of cushions, beer barrels and even a mic and amp but lighting from Nic Farman was more important in changing the mood of the scenes.
Dorothy Myer-Bennett with her pre-Raphaelite hair and abundance of confidence as Beatrice was brilliant in dominating her exchanges with Geoffrey Lumb as Benedick who gave his character an enjoyable bumbling feel mixed with exaggerated bravado creating the legendary exchanges which makes the play such a joy.
Zachary Powell as Don Pedro was good value as was Alex Wilson as Borachio and the Friar. Imran Momen had to balance the strangely split personality as genial flirt and enraged husband to be who falls for Don Jon’s plot. Only the archaic Tudor sexual codes of conducts can explain this aspect of the plot but together with Christopher Bianchi as Leonato (Hero’s dad) pulled it off with the help of mobile phone evidence. Bianchi and Alice Barclay as his wife Ursula made a believable couple. With their modern dress they looked like any couple in the organic section of Sainsbury’s or outside their Bedminster home cleaning the Ford Modeo.
Gawky nerdy looking Hannah Bristow as Hero made the best of her role upping the awkwardness of her character once she’s singled out as a potential bride – a tricky one as Hero doesn’t get too many lines and can be a slightly insignificant character considering her pivotal place in the plot. Bethan Mary-James as Margaret brought so much to the production, strumming her Ukulele, singing in her soft and soulful voice and giving the drama a continuity as she drifted on and off stage in a variety of guises. Speaking of guises the masked ball scene is almost worth the ticket price alone with its disco beat and flashing lights and as with so much in the production choreography of movement kept the action rolling at high speed. It was at over two and a half hours much ado about a lot.
The play runs until Saturday, November 9, 2019 before transferring to Wiltons’ Music Hall in London from November 12, 2019.
For details and tickets visit https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com
The play is a Shakespeare in the Tobacco Factory production. Details at stf-theatre.org.uk
Box office on 0117 9020344.
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