Theatre Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Words: Cathy Symes
Sunday 16 July 2023
reading time: min, words

Nottingham's very own Shakespeare in the park, and the embankment, and... 

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The Nottingham Shakespeare Company’s free production of Much Ado About Nothing was a joy to behold on a blustery Saturday afternoon by the Trent in Nottingham. 

For the last day of this company’s summer programme, the Victoria Embankment Bandstand was a perfect setting, with large copper beech trees proving the backdrop like curtains framing the stage, the memorial gardens to the side and the Trent to our backs. 

The action took place in front of the raised bandstand, which gave an intimacy between actors and audience and also meant that we shared the weather. The 2pm kick off delayed for half an hour because of rain and the 1881 coffee shop next door providing a welcoming shelter for some, as did the trees for others. 

In case you aren’t familiar with the story – as I wasn’t – the Nottingham Shakespeare company’s website tells me that "Much Ado About Nothing is a delightful tale of mistaken identities, romantic misunderstandings, and uproarious antics.’’ Which it was. I rarely fully understand all that happens when I go to a Shakespeare play and need the story to be well communicated through the good acting, and the delivery of lucid lines. The Nottingham Shakespeare company production gave me all of this and more. Adding in contemporary references, a bit of rebellion and the production delivered a performance that fully engaged and entertained.

This free and joyful production of Shakespeare felt almost subversive

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The play involves two couples. One, Beatrice and Benedick, two strong personalities who spend so much time arguing about wanting to stay single that they fail to notice that are in love. The other couple, Hero and Claudio, admit they are in love but have their happy ending scuppered by a false accusation of Hero’s unfaithfulness. This treachery is masterminded by Don John, played by Bronwyn K Crooks who provided a brilliant show of bad-tempered duplicity that would have found a home in any episode of Succession. Michelle-Louise Wright (also the director) played Don Pedro, and skilfully led us through the story. Beatrice was played by Emma Carlton and Christopher Collins delivered a commanding Benedick. The outstanding player in my book was Jonathan Mansfield as Borachio. Funny, engaging and a convincingly mischievous drunk.  Grace Deavall was enticing as Hero and Alistair Fiori – Mcphee as Claudio (also the assistant director) was at his best when he was angry.

With limited props and staging the Nottingham Shakespeare company provided us with a funny and touching production aided by its location and accessibility. As the wedding scene was taking place, a family in the memorial gardens could be seen congregating for their own wedding photos. Afternoon walkers surprised and delighted at coming across the play, stopped and stayed. With arts funding in Nottingham in crisis and the cost of theatre tickets prohibitive for so many, this free and joyful production of Shakespeare felt almost subversive. Not only that, but it was really good. This is a company that is well worth supporting (they are after donations) and keeping an eye out for any future productions.

Much Ado About Nothing by the Nottingham Shakespeare Company played at the Trent Embankment on Saturday 15th July 2023 at 2pm & 7pm.

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