One of three productions to transfer to the Novello from the RSC’s Complete Works Festival in Stratford, recent Evening Standard Award winner Marianne Elliott’s production of Much Ado About Nothing opened last night as part of the company’s now regular London season at the theatre. Kathryn Merritt attended the press night.
Elliot sets Shakespeare’s comedy in Cuba around 1953, before Castro’s revolution. The army, led by Don Pedro (Patrick Robinson), returns from successfully thwarting a rebellion and is welcomed by the governor Leonato (Nicholas Day). Among Don Pedro’s attendants are his right-hand man Benedick (Joseph Millson), the young Count Claudio (Adam Rayner) and Don Pedro’s evil brother Don John (Jonny Weir).
Claudio falls in love with Leonato’s daughter Hero (Morvern Christie) while Benedick declares himself the eternal bachelor. Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Tamsin Greig) also makes the declaration that she will never be with a man until “God make men of some other metal than earth”. In celebratory mood, their friends decide to have a bit of fun and trick Benedick and Beatrice into believing that each loves the other. Meanwhile, Don John plots to ruin Claudio and Hero’s wedding day.
The humorous sniping and brutally witty one-upmanship between Benedick and Beatrice is enacted with impeccable comic timing by Greig and Millson. Other players are equally strong, with crowd favourites that include Constable Dogberry (Bette Bourne) and his Dad’s Army-like band of watchmen.
Lez Brotherston’s set evokes a steamy Cuba, with its rusty iron railings, lazy ceiling fans, strings of lights and a neon bar sign (with the requisite faulty flickering), while Olly Fox’s salsa score provides the perfect interlude to absorb the cultural setting – especially during nightclub singer Balthasar’s (Yvette Rochester Duncan) song, Sigh No More Ladies, and the sultry all-cast dances.
With a strong cast and such spicy dialogue and music, Much Ado About Nothing makes for a very seductive evening out.