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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Shakespeare's Globe


  Jessica Warbeck and Aaron Anthony/ Ph: Helena Miscioscia

This Much Ado is keeping things minimal. The set is so cutely diminutive that the cast could probably hoist it on their own shoulders and still exit dancing at the end of director Max Webster’s small-scale revival of the Bard’s much-loved comedy – where Benedick, the self-proclaimed eternal bachelor, finally weds his old sparring partner, Beatrice.
A quaint Mediterranean villa, with an arched portico, has been playfully shrunk down to the scale of a Wendy home. Designed by James Cotterill, that brings to mind the pint-sized scenery historically trundled around by travelling players, and – though produced by the Globe – this staging has indeed been created for mobile touring.
Trekking from the tip of Cornwall to a quad in Cambridge – with a handful of performances, en route, at London’s Wooden O – Webster’s ensemble is a resourceful troupe. They double as musicians, having a ball with tambourines and a squeeze box. Like a Latin-style folk band, they sing and rhythmically slap their guitars as well in act one, when Christopher Harper’s quipping, ginger-bearded Benedick and his army chums are welcomed back from the wars and merrily fêted by the old gent, Robert Pickavance’s Leonato – Beatrice’s uncle.
While the set may evoke the dwarf townhouses in Giotto’s medieval paintings, the costumes are generally modern-era. The ladies whirl in 1950s, flared plaid skirts. Intimate homeliness is generated by the cast interacting with the audience too. Harper’s Benedick is a rather charming teaser, struggling to identify any virtuous females in the front row. In turn, Emma Pallant’s skinnily tomboyish Beatrice farcically scuttles amidst the punters in her eavesdropping scene.
The cast, totaling only eight, conflates a few of the minor characters then divvies up the rest, playing at least two roles each. For example, Pallant flicks between portraying the wittily articulate, anti-romantic Beatrice and the contrastingly pea-brained Verges – sidekick to the subplot’s idiotic Constable Dogberry.
By introducing doubling that involves several instances of cross-dressing, Webster indirectly supports the play’s questioning of orthodox gender stereotypes. Casual flickers of misogyny, in the male characters’ exchanges, also notably leap out in this production.
That said, the company could push a little further in exploring the emotional terrain of bruised pain and anger, when the dialogue hints at Beatrice and Benedick being old flames and when the fledgling romance between Leonato’s daughter and Benedick’s friend Claudio turns dark.
Pallant does bravely risk making Beatrice borderline shrewish, at the same time as having fine comic timing. However, this isn’t a great Much Ado to rival the Globe’s main-stage production of 2011(which starred the delightfully funny Charles Edwards and Eve Best). Several members of the supporting cast here are, regrettably, nothing to write home about, and the Dogberry scenes are an awful drag.
Still, Webster is a rising young director, about to join AD Matthew Warchus’ new team at the Old Vic, and the bouncy energy of this production ultimately leaves you on a high.
Kate Bassett is a theatre critic for The Times of London. Twitter:@katebassett001


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