Lies, love and laughter: Much Ado About Nothing comes to Queen’s
14:46 08 March 2016
The Queen’s Theatre’s new Artistic Director Douglas Rintoul begins his tenure with a slick reimagining of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy.
There is something remarkably fresh about this production of Much Ado About Nothing, and that isn’t just referring to the setting of the show in post-Second World War England.
All but two of the play’s cast are making their Queen’s Theatre debuts(Eliza Hunt last performed there in 1981), and the energy they bring to the performance never falters for a moment.
Special praise must go to James Siggens, who is still in the final year of his training and is marking his professional debut by bringing an infectious charm to Claudio, the play’s young romantic lead, even when deliberately misled and at his least likeable.
But as any scholar of Shakespeare will tell you, in truth this play belongs to Beatrice and Benedick, the warring couple fooled into falling in love despite their constant protests they cannot abide one another.
If there is a single aspect of the production Rintoul had to get right, it was casting the two loudmouth lovers, and fortunately Thomas Padden and Hattie Ladbury absolutely nail the witty back and forth between the two.
There is something remarkably modern about watching their relationship play out, as frosty exchanges are reinterpreted in the wake of a few well-placed lies, and each convinces themselves they must love the other.
You get the feeling that if the play were set in 2016, they would be constantly trolling each other on twitter.
One of the biggest laughs of the night comes from Benedick’s woefully inaccurate interpretation of a simple summons to dinner from the woman he believes loves him even while he scorns her, while the physical comedy Padden and Ladbury bring to the scenes in which they eavesdrop on their friends and family dicussing their relationship brings the very best out of slapstick Shakespeare.
The second act by necessity has to lose some of its humour to service the plot, but all in all the punchlines and payoffs are expertly paced throughout to maintain the audience’s interest, and visually the staging is masterfully done.
One particular moment that remains long in the mind is the way a simple change of lighting and a crucifix lowered from the rafters turn a sunny Italian villa into a striking tableau of a murky chapel.
If Rintoul’s first production is anything to go by, the Queen’s Theatre is in very capable hands.