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Much Ado About Nothing review at Shakespeare’s Globe, London – ‘high-concept Mexican staging’

The cast of Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare's Globe, London. Photo Tristram Kenton The cast of Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare's Globe, London. Photo Tristram Kenton

When not dicking around with Dickens at the Open Air Theatre, Matthew Dunster has repeatedly demonstrated that he is a director who understands the potential of Shakespeare’s Globe as a space for experimentation.

He is unafraid to take risks and when these pay off it can result in some of the most accessible, vibrant work staged at the Globe. Case in point: Imogen, his reworking of Cymbeline. featuring a spectacular final dance to Skepta’s Shut Down – it was one of the highlights of Emma Rice’s inaugural season.

Dunster’s production of Much Ado About Nothing is similarly bold and high-concept, if less satisfying. Dunster has relocated the play to the Mexican revolution – a period of revolution, he explains, for women too. They often fought alongside men, some even dressed as men, masculinising their names. The actors’ chests are criss-crossed with bullet belts, the men all sport fat moustaches, and everyone packs a pistol.

It’s a visually distinctive production featuring some gorgeous costumes. Designer Anna Fleischle has masked the Globe’s familiar backdrop with a cloud-curtain, parked a great big wooden railway car on the stage with a mariachi band on the roof, and turned one of the pillars into a whitewashed, azure-splashed chapel, complete with a gaudy Madonna and votive candles. The attention to detail is considerable and a lot of thought has evidently gone into the aesthetic.

Though Ewan Wardrop’s Dogberry takes the form of a language-mangling American film director, a monoglot clod in jodhpurs prone to pratfalls, Dunster never overdoes the contemporary parallels. If anything the production is a little too restrained.

Both Beatriz Romilly and Matthew Needham are individually compelling as Beatrice and Benedick. They spar convincingly, but there’s less in the way of romantic chemistry between them. Marcello Cruz makes a charismatic, hot-headed Claudio and Anya Chalotra an appealing Hero – the sharpest shot of the lot. Both are making their professional stage debuts and they ensure their storyline does not get overshadowed. James Maloney’s music is lilting and melancholy, often beautifully so, but while there are some cracking moments, like the colourful carnival scene, not everything works.

Having Jo Dockery’s Juana – a gender-switched Don John – wield a copper-wire horse’s head and clop around on stilts in lieu of a steed, mainly demonstrates how difficult it is to look menacing while doing either of these things.

Though the scene where Needham believes Beatrice to be smitten with him is delightful, the Dogberry episodes are just odd and sap the energy from the production, while the “Kill Claudio” line draws chuckles. Too often the fizz is missing, the emotional balance a little off.

In the end, Dunster’s commitment to his concept dilutes some of the play’s magic. But it’s still an entertaining production, Romilly, and particularly Needham, are always engaging, and Dunster delivers the goods when it comes to the final dance.

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High-concept Mexican Much Ado that, for all its visual inventiveness, dilutes some of the play’s magic