The original rom-com, Much Ado About Nothing is one of William Shakespeare's best loved works and perfect fodder for constant makeovers, in recent years it has been reset to just about every decade of the last two centuries and a myriad of locations around the globe, there's even a musical version here at the Fringe. Sky Blue Theatre have decided to leave the integral story intact and give us a much edited but faithful staging of the work delivered by an 11 strong youth theatre cast.
It is 16th Century Messina, Sicily, Leonato welcomes his friends Don Pedro, Claudio and Benedick home from war. His young visitor Claudio falls in love with his daughter Hero but Don Pedro's illegitimate brother Don John has other plans. Meanwhile old sparring partners Beatrice and Benedick resume their 'merry war' of words. After much misunderstanding, some malice and a lot of trickery this mirthful masterpiece ends happily ever after.
As with many shortened versions of Shakespeare, the story loses much in the trimming and some knowledge of the main plot line is advisable to have a fighting chance of filling in the blanks of the many and often perplexing plot lines. The young cast do their best with the material but the action stalls between the moments of comedy; the cast are perhaps just a trifle too young to pull off this merry love story convincingly. The wedding scene though, the pivotal moment of drama in the piece, is well acted by the young performers especially Claudio. It is however a tad too long and could have been cut somewhat to help the development of the storyline up to this point. To its credit, after this lengthy scene the journey from conflict to resolution is swift.
With the exception of the young actor playing Don John, who has a commanding stage presence, the male members of the cast suffer from poor diction and projection, mangling the majority of their dialogue behind their false beards, however the actresses deliver their lines with pin-sharp clarity. The young actress playing Beatrice is a find, enlivening the stage whenever she appears, her comic-timing is spot-on and delivery of the lines as assured as many more mature performers. Benedick is no match for the rather more feisty and mature Beatrice, hampered as he is by his false beard - which paradoxically makes him appear even younger - and in trying to squeeze every last laugh out of the text he is wringing it bone dry. That said, his attempts at some adult swagger raise laughs among the crowd. The subterfuge used to trick both Benedick and Beatrice is nicely played by the young actors, the physical comedy well-timed with the right amount of slapstick; the candle-lit final scene too is effectively realised.
Overall a commendable attempt at a much-loved classic by an eager and enthusiastic young cast.