In The Pantaloons’ touring version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a cast of four pull out all the comedy stops and still highlight the drama of the tale. When two, contrasting, pairs of lovers become entangled in deceipt, both of the generous match-making kind and of the dark, revenge type, there is plenty gold to be mined, and these versatile performers mine well with great energy, musical ability, timing and physicality, as well as deeper connection to the changing emotions of the piece.
Shakespeare’s words are understood and spoken afresh – always a delight, and very necessary to bring true life to the plays. If some earlier scenes of text are not as engaging as the comedy antics added to the piece, this improves quite quickly, until – from the tricking of the famous pair of lovers, Benedick and Beatrice, on – all the scenes fully engage, amuse, entertain and affect. The four performers swap roles with agility, through the simple use of headgear, coats and clear vocal (including accents) and physical work, all punctuated and underlined by frequent musical highlights, using wind, string and percussive instruments. The performers are well-suited to the outdoor setting, also, showing vocal versatility based on true projection rather than a reliance on shouting, despite the occasional plane overhead.
Sometimes, the aisle in the centre of the audience was slightly over-used, considering most people were not able / inclined to keep turning their heads, but overall the staging worked for an audience where many were seated on the ground. A few boxes were put to good comedy and practical use, and there were plenty of ideas, rooted in the play, which produced comedy gold, such as the tricksters who lure Benedick into loving Beatrice sitting fishing – physicalising the metaphorical angling, baiting and reeling in of what they are up to. Mime featured for this and elsewhere, clear and amusing.
The Pantaloons here, all playing at least four different characters, are Hannah Ellis, Neil Jennings, Chris Keyna and Maryann O’Brien. They are skilled all-round performers, and each also has particular strengths which include: Ellis – physicality; Jennings – connection to audience; Keyna – musical ability; O’Brien – making the extreme believable (just to mention one of many skills for each).
The Pantaloons mix irreverent humour, dashes of improvisation, lots of energy and a real understanding of the play and produce great entertainment for all the family (which does mean occasionally pulling back a bit on the bawdiness of the original). As the play progressed, each scene gained spontaneous applause, and not just for the comedy – this Much Ado About Nothing is really something worth watching.
Touring UK until 23 August, incl. 19:00 (c.21:00) 16 July, Greenbank Garden, Glasgow
The Pantaloons’ other current shows are Pride and Prejudice and Treasure Island: http://www.thepantaloons.co.uk/shows/summer2015.asp