N6 Productions do not deliver, as promised, a “sexy rock and roll romp“, nor is it clear from publicity that this is a school production. They do deliver Shakespeare’s Much Ado relatively faithfully and set in the 1950s, with a modernised introduction to the ‘police’ who uncover a plot by Don John for ruining the marriage of Hero and Claudio. The other romantic couple – Beatrice and Benedict – provide the witty banter for which Much Ado is famous.
Beatrice showed understanding and a dry wit, though higher energy and variation would help. Benedick handled verbal comedy well and also a scene in which he challenged Claudio. He could improve by really listening to others (especially when eavesdropping) and allowing thoughts to come to him rather than rattling them along without change. Leonato, father to Hero, had moments of real thought and feeling and Don John’s brother Don Pedro was played with a natural quality and charm. The villains tended to play one attribute – sullen, nasty, tormented – though a gender change for one (being female in this version) worked well. Others gave clear support with flashes of fine language handling, particularly the minister. The Watch had panto elements, clear but not always effective, and Dogberry took a while to warm into his performance but was then able to highlight his misuse of words.
Period music occurred mainly at change of scenes and these flowed nicely, not requiring set changes. A garden bench and two trellises served well, with the occasional addition of items and projection. Spotlights picked out moments of soliloquy and costume suited period and different scenes. Where the play is understood, there is a lot of clarity in this production and some directing ideas work well.
However, passages are not always understood, for instance, Don John’s lie about his brother wooing Hero is not clearly shown to be said in order to trick Claudio. When three men know Benedick is listening and lay a romantic trap for him, there is no sign any of them understand when they suggest he is a coward. Playing of this would have heightened the comedy, which here is overly staged in moves which often mask and which damage the real humour to be found in response to what is actually being said. Obscuring also occurs elsewhere, often caused by actors moving without reason – very common in inexperienced performers – and should be discouraged, not added to by flawed direction. There is also a problem with pace and energy not carrying the play forward.
N6 Productions’ Much Ado About Nothing does not fulfil the promise of its publicity and design, but it does offer the opportunity to see a school offering some charming humour, a few fresh ideas, and lines clearly delivered when understood.
By Danielle Farrow
22 – 27 August, 11:45 (13:15) @ theSpaces @ Surgeons’ Hall