Review: Much ado about nothing (RSC) at Manchester Opera House

 Members of the company, Much ado about nothing (RSC) Members of the company, Much ado about nothing (RSC)

It would be easy to assume that sitting down for an evening of Shakespeare, provided by the impossibly British and established RSC, would be an entirely serious affair dominated by brooding soliloquys and dashing over-wrought drama – this is anything but.

The bard’s work is at its best as much comedy of error as dry comment on society and the Royal Shakespeare Company of accomplished actors here prove this, one of his most popular and accessible works, can be interpreted with plenty of joy and made relevant.

The biggest surprise in this interpretation of Much ado (also known as Love’s Labour’s won) ,  second of two linked productions staged at the Opera House this week by the company, is that it does not only contain live music (directed by Bob Broad)  but song and dance making this irrepressible staging even more accessible, heightening emotions and showcasing the all-round talents of this hard-working cast.

And why not?  Shakespeare loved music and would have given a whole-hearted thumbs up to this production, directed by Christopher Luscombe with music composed by Nigel Hess.

Set after the end of the first world war (Love’s Labour’s lost staged earlier in the week was set pre-war) this sees the comedy of Much ado position the characters as they re-establish themselves from war to peacetime, recovering from injury and military life and floundering toward the future, love and the roaring twenties.

Like all Shakespeare work, it takes a moment or two to get your ear in to the flowery old-fashioned language, but once the characters have established and aided by the first-class physical theatre, you are soon immersed in the drama of love, lies and comedic exploits.

Here the best scenes go rightly to the dry-of-wit, sparring and sarcastic couple-to-be Beatrice and Benedick played by the magnificent, sparkling, Lisa Dillon and Edward Bennett.

“There’s a skirmish of wit between them. ”

— Leonato (Act1, scene 1)

This sharp-as-a-tack pair reluctantly approach a  romance they insist they don’t want or need with help from their match-making loved-ones while the drama of young Hero (Rebecca Collingwood) and soldier Claudio’s (Tunji Kasim) disastrous wedding attempt swirls around them.

“When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married”

— Benedick (Act 2, scene 3)

This is indeed ‘Much ado about nothing’, a series of events entirely created by one bitter character’s malicious campaign of misinformation which throws the cat amongst the pigeons sparking a series of dramas including a faked death and a dilemma for the local police.

It is an ensemble piece, which moves from warm humour to laugh-out loud and to brilliance through the set-police clowning by local constable Dogberry (played by Nick Haverson) and his inept deputy Verges (Roderick Smith), whose physical timing could give any Morecambe and Wise sketch a run for its money.

And I cannot fail to mention the singing house guest Balthasar, whose pieces at the piano echo Noel Coward at his best, despite Roderick’s assertion to the contrary.

“An he had been a dog that should have howled thus, they would have hanged him”

— Benedick (Act 2, scene 3)

A fantastic production, which ends on a song, a dance and a smile.

Never assume Shakespeare is not for you – that just makes an ass out of you and me – which on reflection Shakespeare would find hilarious.

 Beatrice and Benedick, played by Lisa Dillon and Edward Bennett Beatrice and Benedick, played by Lisa Dillon and Edward Bennett

“For there was never yet philosopher that could endure the toothache patiently”

— (Leonato, Act 5 Scene 1) by William Shakepeare

 Much ado about nothing, RSC Much ado about nothing, RSC