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Mr Monkey sees Much Ado About Nothing at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 27th March 2014
End date : 3rd May 2014
Visit date : 1st April, 2014
Mr Monkey looking at the Much Ado About Nothing poster
Mr Monkey trotted along to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the press night of Much Ado About Nothing.

Much Ado About Nothing was apparently first performed in the autumn or winter of 1598/99, though the first recorded performances were during celebrations of the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick V, Elector Palatine in 1612/13.

Don Pedro, prince of Aragon, returns from campaign with the officers of his army, and stays on the estate of his friend Leanato, the governor of Messina.

As a bit of a diversion he and his friends decide to arrange two marriages - one between Claudio and Hero, who are too tongue-tied to speak to each other, and the other between Benedick and Beatrice, a couple who are eloquent in their mutual antipathy.

This is achieved through a series of stratagems, mainly involving having loud conversations in the knowlege that the person being talked about can't avoid eavesdropping. Hilarious consequences ensue.

A counter plot by Don John, illegitimate brother of Don Pedro, who is in a bit of a mood because he resents having been forgiven for rebelling against Don Pedro, almost stops these marriages, but fails. It is a comedy, after all.

For this production, the theme is the end of WW2 and the effect of servicemen returning to civilian life. Leonato has been changed to Leonata so that Don Pedro's men arrive at an all-female household, which makes the governor's reaction to the plot against Hero appear more extreme than in the original context. The 1940's setting doesn't really affect the play much, but it does provide good music for the masked ball and gives the actors opportunity to impress with energetic swing dancing.

The stage is more or less empty bar a wooden platform throughout, though this platform undergoes a pretty marvellous transformation in the final scenes of the play.
Beatrice (Ellie Piercy) and Benedick (Paul Ready) (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
The two most important characters, Beatrice (Ellie Pierce) and Benedick (Paul Ready), are excellently played, with Beatrice's costumes giving a screwball comedy movie glamour to her humourous exchanges with Benedict. There's a magnetism to their performances and Mr Monkey could really believe in them as people.

Claudio (Gerard Kearns) and Hero (Becci Gemmell) are well played and convincingly self-effacing. The rest of the cast are good, but their parts are somewhat eclipsed by the fireworks of Beatrice and Benedick (this is, of course, Shakespeare's fault).

Mr Monkey enjoyed the physical business of the play especially Sandy Foster's (Dogberry) ability to talk while falling over backwards, and Benedick and Beatrice's increasingly energetic attempts to hide in the audience during the eavesdropping scenes. He was a little disappointed that there was no cross-dressing (he does love it when someone's daughter becomes unrecognizable by donning trousers) but the masked ball made up for that by successfully disguising everyone.
The local watch - Dogberry (Sandy Foster) and Verges (Beverly Rudd) - root out crime (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Mr Monkey found Much Ado About Nothing a totally enjoyable and well paced production.
Much Ado About Nothing runs until 3rd May 2014.

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