“O God, that I were a man,” Beatrice laments in
The plot is wonderfully preserved and its humour still shines through.
It’s not a revolutionary gimmick, nor does it particularly affect the meaning of the text (the men are clearly playing as women, in dresses, and vice versa), but it does give actors a chance to try on different roles. So I feel confident judging the decision based on the quality of the acting.
And the acting was quality. Paul Beeson, in his role as the tallest, broadest Beatrice I’ve ever seen, is remarkable in his (her?) sarcastic tones and vocal disgust. He is particularly remarkable in conjunction with Bronagh Finlay’s Benedick. Her (his?) quick, witty confidence matches Beeson step for step, and their verbal dance is a treat. As is not uncommon in Much Ado, the other romantic couple is less impressive. They’re just smaller characters. But Ian Dunnett’s girly enthusiasm as Hero grew on me, though his dramatic pieces were muted. Susanna Mulvihill’s Claudio had a particular worried melancholy that fit well, but it didn’t allow much range, which showed at times.
The ensemble generally played well to their roles. All clearly understood the importance of pace, and easily turn antique language into natural speech, important for any Shakespeare play. My clear favorite among the ensemble was Elsie Horobin’s Dogberry, who was absolutely ridiculous and the funniest character in the play. But the antagonists, particularly Sue Gyford and Ruth Gibson, were just too low-energy compared to the rest of the cast.
Of course, the script is Shakespeare, and beyond substantive criticism. But an hour and a half long production of a five-act comedy requires substantial cuts. Yet somehow, as is not always the case, the plot is wonderfully preserved and its humour still shines through.
These characters and stories are timeless and continually relevant. That’s the continued value of Shakespeare. So, to be introduced to this set of characters, or to revisit them like old friends, the Arkle production of Much Ado will certainly do. Even its not the most orthodox production.