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Much Ado About Nothing review at Mercury Theatre, Colchester – ‘lacking in comic fizz’

Karl Haynes Emmy Stonelake and Chris Charles in Much Ado About Nothing at Mercury Theatre, Colchester. Photo: Pamela Raith

In Pia Furtado’s Much Ado About Nothing sunny Sicily has become an Essex garrison town, much like Colchester. This works pretty well: an army returning from recent deployment provides genuine cause for celebration among the locals of all classes, and the bonding between the soldiers in modern desert gear is clearly the result of shared experience.

Furtado’s production contains some excellent touches: a humdinger of a fancy dress welcome home party in which the young men could genuinely be mistaken for one another, a Claudio and Hero (Peter Bray and Robyn Cara) sweetly young and inexperienced enough to make their rollercoaster relationship almost credible and enough community actors to pad out party, wedding and police contingent. Kirsty J Curtis does a great job as the over-sexed, gum-chewing maid Margaret – usually a minor role – twerking in skin-tight leopardskin and observed in flagrante playing dress-up in Hero’s wedding veil, then mortified by the result of her actions.

There are some odd choices though, especially the confused gender of bitter, machiavellian Don John. The prince’s wicked brother here becomes an angry sister crisply played by Polly Lister in either fatigues or fucshia stilettos, but is still addressed as “lord”.

The comic fizz has also gone AWOL. There just aren’t enough laughs. The verbal muddles in the Dogberry scenes are problematic without greater reliance on physical comedy, while Danielle Flett and Jason Langley as Beatrice and Benedick haven’t found either the depth of almost-lost earlier love or the barbed fun in flirtatious sparring. Camilla Clarke’s otherwise excellent canteen set doesn’t help with hiding places in the gulling scenes which fall a little flat despite Benedick gamely donning washing-up gloves and a pink apron.

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Essex-set revival of Shakespeare's comedy of verbal cut-and-thrust lacking in comic fizz