dfp_header_hidden_string

Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Much Ado About Nothing review at New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme – ‘a delicious battle of wits’

Linford Johnson, Isobel Middleton and Robin Simpson in Much Ado About Nothing at New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme. Photo: Nobby Clark Linford Johnson, Isobel Middleton and Robin Simpson in Much Ado About Nothing at New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme. Photo: Nobby Clark

In Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice and Benedick are at “merry war”. Director Conrad Nelson takes the concept of wartime amusement and runs with it in this Northern Broadsides and New Vic Theatre co-production.

All aspects of the design and delivery are tailored to fit a vision of frivolity. Lis Evans’ set evokes a rural idyll – the battles of the Second World War were fought far beyond this horizon – and exquisite musical interludes by a multitalented cast add to the atmosphere of warm camaraderie.

Robin Simpson revels in the witty jocularity of Benedick’s lines and exploits the opportunities for physical comedy as he eavesdrops from on high. Isobel Middleton makes a marvellous Beatrice, contorting her facial features into the embodiment of disdain when first spotting Benedick. Later – when she proclaims, “I wish I were a man!” – Middleton fires out the words with a strength that cuts through the misogyny of the problematic Hero-Claudio subplot.

Transposing the action to the Second World War makes the play’s concerns with status and female reputation harder to fathom. Though RAF uniforms delineate the rank of the noble male characters, the Women’s Land Army uniform places Hero (Sarah Kameela Impey) and Beatrice on a more equal footing with other women. This lessens the impact of Hero’s fall from grace and creates difficulty when plot strands diverge.

It is a relief to return to the central couple. Despite the brilliant performances of the supporting cast, ultimately the delicious battle of wits between Beatrice and Benedick holds too much allure.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Verdict
Well-conceived and beautifully executed staging of Shakespeare's comedy set at the end of the Second World War
^