Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe
Matthew Dunster’s Much Ado About Nothing begins with a cloud of smoke hovering across Shakespeare’s Globe, disappearing for the big reveal: a Mexican twist. Set in the midst of the 20th century Mexican Revolution, the Bard’s comedy is given a new sense of perspective and direction, complete with Spanish singing, sombreros and a live mariachi band. Thus, “Signor” becomes “Señor”, and the “merry war” between two characters is just one of the battles in this new brave context.
A play famed for its wit, trickery and humour, Much Ado has a stage large enough for all its characters to epitomise all these things: sarcastic Beatrice (Beatriz Romilly) and stubborn Benedick (Matthew Needham), two opposing characters who are tricked into expressing their love for each other; Hero (Anya Chalotra), Beatrice’s cousin, and Claudio (Marcello Cruz) who wishes to marry her. In Dunster’s production, Don Pedro’s (Steve John Shepherd) characterisation is influenced by the revolutionary historical leader Pancho Villa, and his villainous brother Don John is now his sister, Juana (Jo Dockery). Although audiences often consider Beatrice and Benedick the protagonists, each cast member is equally impressive, delivering prose – and actions and expressions – with range, passion and perfect timing.
The production value is immense and incremental, and rather than distracting from the script, it adds endless flair. For example, the play’s masquerade ball is a flamenco fiesta with vibrant costumes, and the actors’ horses are stilts with wire puppets. A particular highlight is the bumbling constable Dogberry becoming American filmmaker Dog Berry. His famous hilarious malapropisms are delightfully updated, making smart use of the would-be “Spanish” translation mishaps here in Shakespeare’s Mexico. Every detail is carefully considered, with a touch of creative license. (Surely Shakespeare wouldn’t have included dabbing in the stage directions.) In contrast, the set itself is relatively simple, a multi-purpose train wagon with sliding windows for eavesdropping that are used to fantastic comic effect.
Though it can sometimes feel like a dramatic telenovela, the production is also more deliciously musical than expected. It’s consistently funny, shown by constant, hearty audience laughter. Needham and Romilly have banterous chemistry as they trade insults, and Dunnster even manages to fit in current social commentary.
Bard loyalists may dislike messing with the script, however, there is much to be celebrated here. Much Ado About Nothing captures the spirit of Shakespeare’s original but gives it new unleashed energy by taking a bold, original risk that pays off. Celebrate the 50th year of the Globe’s Summer of Love and fall in love with this utterly sensational adaptation.
Photo: Tristram Kenton
Much Ado About Nothing is at Shakespeare’s Globe from 14th July until 15th October 2017. For further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Much Ado About Nothing here: