Despite a mafia-themed opening this production of Shakespeare’s comedy owes more stylistically to a Hitchcock thriller than the Godfather.
With the action transported to 1950s Sicily, this is a sun-drenched take on the Bard’s happy version of Romeo and Juliet where loving the one you should hate, a madcap friar, and a fake death ends rather more happily than a double suicide.
Benedick (Rob Tiffen) and Beatrice (Harriet Waterhouse) bicker and fight but are tricked into falling in love, while the genuine romance of Hero (Safia Hall) and Claudio (Matthew Squance) is put at risk by a rival with a long-held grudge.
Waterhouse and Tiffen are a fluid, delightful, pairing – both are sharp, likeable, and make the most of their crazed transformations from tormentors to true lovers. The speed of their repartee sacrifices some of the gags, but Tiffen particularly brings many of his own with his physicality.
Squance and Hall are suitably sweet in their more innocent affections, and in her brief appearances as saboteur Donna Juana Laura Landamore has exceptionally strong presence – if she’s not playing a panto baddy somewhere this Christmas then she should be.
The comically-bad night watch provide oodles of light relief, led by master of the malapropism Dogberry (David White) and Verges (Robin Saunders). The whole troupe are extremely fun to watch, presenting a real risk of corpsing for the straight roles around them.
Tony Fullwood’s direction has playfully filmic elements but could have committed to them slightly more (and perhaps trimmed the text a little), and partners well with Lucinda Bray’s set incorporating a veil-come-projection screen for quick scene changes. The modern trend for gender-swapping some characters neither harms nor adds to the action.
At three hours it’s a bit too long to be a romp but it nips along with lightness of an Italian scooter, full of dirty jokes and tasty performances. Great fun for an autumn evening.
Much Ado About Nothing continues at the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich until Saturday, September 28.