AC Productions’ version of the Bard’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Peter Reid, finds itself transported from 16th century Messina, Sicily to the Italy of the swinging 60s, where the sharp suits and shift dresses prove to be the ideal setting for Shakespeare’s tale of love interrupted by deceit.
In the intimate setting of the Civic Theatre’s Loose End Studio, a space utterly suited for the eavesdropping and gossiping of those meddling in the romantic lives of reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick, the audience are drawn into the plot, sharing the space and the whispered secrets. The space provides the perfect backdrop for the many scenes in which the various characters spread their mistruths, for reasons both selfish and generous. The audience share in both the humour of the attempts to dupe Benedick and Beatrice into marriage and also the pain inflicted on the house of Leonato by the deceitful Don John.
Shakespeare’s tale is an exploration of the complex woes of relationships between men and women, examining the role of gossip, deceit and cowardice. While it is clearly a comedy, the play also touches on the darker side of romantic relationships and societal conventions. While Much Ado About Nothing is certainly a comedy, tragic elements remain throughout. The play is unafraid to be critical of gender expectations brought about by strict societal conventions, and examines the fall-out when these expectations are not met, or people dare to deviate from them. The tumultuous relationships between both Benedick and Beatrice, and Hero and Claudio highlight the outcomes from any alleged refusal to comply with these conventions or attempt to defy expectation. Much Ado also finds a way to critique the very act of marriage itself, with Benedick and Beatrice both vowing against it, and Hero and Claudio finding their path to the altar littered with pain and strife.
A very strong cast filled with adept performances throughout ensure that this production is a success. Stand-out performances come from Alex Cusack as Beatrice and Nick Devlin as Benedick, who really bring their characters to life, wholeheartedly embracing the challenges of the witty barbs and battle of wits that their characters pursue.
Much Ado About Nothing is a light-hearted tale of love and relationships, which contains many truths relevant to modern times, a fact made all the more clear by the inspired decision to bring the setting up to the 1960s. AC Productions take on the Shakespearean classic is a warm, funny and thoroughly enjoyable interpretation, brought alive by an energetic cast and inventive staging.
Cara Groome Travers