SHAKESPEARE’S dark comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, is one of his most popular works, offering directors apparently limitless opportunities to change its period and its setting without diminishing its impact.
It has two central love affairs, one wryly funny and fuelled by life and experience, the other really rather nasty.
In this terrific new Northern Broadsides production by Conrad Nelson, every member of the cast is a musician actor and the whole thing is set in country village at the end of the second world war, as the troops are coming home.
Don Pedro, accompanied by his two favourite officers, the “confirmed bachelor” Benedick and the arrogant young Claudio, leads his squadron into the village to catch up with his old friend Leonato. Claudio takes one look at Leonato’s daughter Hero and falls in love.
Throw in Don Pedro’s scheming brother Don John, the barbed and defensive long-denied love of Benedick and Hero’s cousin Beatrice, and a few “rude mechanicals” in the form of the village watch led by the wonderfully Malapropist Dogberry, and the stage is set for plots, fun and summer romance. The girls are kitted up for the Land Army, creating a bucolic backdrop for the parties and shenanigans. And any moment they might break into song, pop tunes of the time or raucous brass.
MD Rebekah Hughes weaves the music into this clever and edgy production, and the company performs with chutzpah and obvious enjoyment.
Isobel Middleton and Robin Simpson make the newly 20th century roles of Beatrice and Benedick their own, subtly conveying their fears and tentative relief under the guise of cruel wit and endless jibes.
Matt Rixon is a majestic Don Pedro, and Simeon Truby makes Leonato’s doubting of his daughter truly painful.
This is a lively, fun-packed ensemble piece, demonstrating the timelessness of Shakespeare and offering an enlightening introduction for first time Barders.
It’s on in Salisbury until 23rd March before it heads north on its UK tour.
Photographs by Nobby Clark