Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Dundee Rep

THEATRE REVIEW

 

Much Ado About Nothing

Dundee Rep

Until June 25

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

Much Ado Dundee
Marli Siu and Barrie Hunter in Much Ado About Nothing at Dundee Rep. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

This production of Much Ado About Nothing comes at a time when the Dundee Rep company is looking for a new artistic director; the previous incumbent, Jemima Levick having moved on to take the helm at Scotland’s celebrated women’s theatre company Stellar Quines.

Longstanding Rep ensemble actor, and sometime director, Irene MacDougall has stepped into the directorial breach. Glad to report, her bold, fast-paced staging of the Bard’s love match comedy is a corker.

As so often with Shakespeare, Much Ado is a comedy in which light is balanced with considerable shade. Set in the court of Messina, the play swings between a playful plot and a wicked conspiracy.

The plan to bring together Beatrice and Benedick, who are confirmed opponents of marriage and of each other, is a comic joy. However, the machinations of the “bastard prince” Don John (a character cut from the same cloth as Edmund in King Lear), are a bleak combination of jealousy, defamation and misogyny.

There are excellent performances across the piece, from Billy Mack’s bewildered governor Leonato (father of the slandered bride Hero) to Antony Strachan and Ann Louise Ross as the decidedly Keystone-style cops Dogberry and Verges. The stand-out performance, however, comes from Robert Jack, who plays Benedick with the energetic exasperation of a young, Scottish Frankie Howerd.

Designer Ken Harrison’s period costumes are a delight, while his complex set (with its mirrors and transparent walls) offers numerous ways in and out; proof, if it were needed, that the play is a Renaissance precursor of the drawing room farce.

All in all, this is a beautifully crafted, fabulously confident rendering of a great Shakespeare comedy. On this showing, the Rep need look no further than MacDougall in its quest for a new artistic director.

An abridged version of this review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on June 19, 2016

© Mark Brown

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