Though Shakespeare never wrote the following lines – Oh what a tangled web we weave / When first we practice to deceive – Walter Scott’s words from his poem Marmion neatly sum up the plot of the Bard’s Much Ado About Nothing.
Brother plots against brother, friends plot against friends, people pretend to love each other and father is turned against daughter.
There are more twists and turns then in an average episode of Midsummer Murders and Ray Cooney clearly learned about farce from a master of the genre.
As lovers spy on lovers there is more hiding behind the arras than in a festival of Hamlets and under the cloak of darkness villains weave their evil webs.
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There are masks, literal and metaphorical, mistaken identities, tricks and taunts.
The Northern Broadsides production wrings every nuance from the comedy – every heartache from the painful process of achieving true love.
To give away some of the jokes and ‘stage business’ would be to spoil the fun, surprise and delight to be had from the production.
Safe to say it is a witty, quirky, musical and poetic staging of the comedy.
Director Conrad Nelson has chosen a setting at the end of World War Two and Benedict and Claudio return to an English village as hero RAF pilots.
The women are all now Land Girls and there are Dig For Victory signs thrown askew. It was a perfect nostalgic setting – when hope was high for a better more peaceful future.
It also allowed for great musical references – something Northern Broadsides never fail to tap into and milk for all they are worth. The actors double as the musicians and dancers (Strictly eat your heart out).
The opening number – Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree – has lots of swing and there is a superb barbershop quartet treatment of Hey Nonny, Nonny which saves it from being downright embarrassing.
Dogberry and his constables enter each time to a burst of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy – genius.
At the centre of the complex shenanigans are two love stories – Claudio’s betrothal to Hero, the bickering, love-hate relationship between Beatrice and Benedick and the attempts by the jealous Don Jon to thwart the course of true love.
It calls for great chemistry between the actors – and this existed between Sarah Kameela Impey as Hero and Linford Johnson as Claudio. Impey gave a heart-breaking performance as a woman jilted – the whole scene when she was rejected at the altar by Claudio was played on a knife-edge – the prospect of violence erupting at any second.
But it is the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick that entertains and attracts. She is a sworn spinster, he a confirmed bachelor – with an eye for each other.
The timing of Isobel Middleton as Beatrice and Robin Simpson was immaculate, making sure the barbs hit their target – and the suppressed attraction was also obvious. There was almost a cheer when they finally kiss.
The cast is vast with lots of wonderful cameos – Anthony Hunt as Borachio; David Nellist as Dogberry; Richard J Fletcher as Don Jon; Simeon Truby as Leonato and Matt Rixon as Don Pedro.
Northern Broadsides present Much Ado in the style its audience is accustomed to – northern accents and musical interludes – and it also has heart, soul, wit and a unique quirkiness that delights.
Weds March 13 to Saturday March 16 Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
Box Office: 01723 370541 / www.sjt.uk.com
Thu 25 April – Sat 4 May – Viaduct Theatre, Halifax
Box Office: 01422 255266 / deanclough.com
Tue 7 – Sat 11 May – The Lowry, Salford
Box Office: 08432086000 / thelowry.com
Tue 14 – Sat 18 May – York Theatre Royal
Box Office 01904 623568 / yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
Tue 21-Sat 25 May – Harrogate Theatre
Box Office: 01423 502116 / harrogatetheatre.co.uk