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Much Ado About Nothing

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Four stars

There are far more clowns than acrobats in Jennifer Dick’s circus-set Bard in the Botanics production of what turns out to be Shakespeare’s most rootin’ tootin’ rom-com. But when Nicole Cooper’s Beatrice steps into the ring to attempt to juggle while all about her spin plates and lift weights, it’s a wordless symbol of things to come. As she and her sparring partner Benedick lead each other on a merry dance before they finally wear each other down to the inevitable amorous showdown, everybody but them can see what’s coming a mile off.

Hannah Parker’s Hero and Dylan Blore’s Claudio, meanwhile, have got their own thing going on, although they too fall prey to machinations not of their making. These come largely by way of Darren Brownlie’s morose Don John, who looks like he stepped from the pages of Death in Venice as he attempts to manipulate matters for his own ends.

With understated gender-bending at the heart of much of this year’s Bard in the Botanics season, the town’s head honcho Leonato is here reinvented by Linda Duncan McLaughlin as Leonata, ring-mistress of Messina’s Travelling Circus. With Don Pedro too cast as a princess, Don John’s scheming attempt to stitch up Hero adds an extra frisson to the fabricated romance.

Such, then, is the way of carny folk, who here manage to create a comic soap opera out of the confusion. Much fun is to be had from Brownie, who doubles up superbly as Dogberry, here writ large as a cartoon strong-man running riot with his pair of slapstick sidekicks.

The outdoor setting gives Dick’s production a sideshow feel on Carys Hobbs’ trailer-like set. The cast are certainly not busking it, mind, as Cooper and Adam Donaldson’s equally competitive Benedick run rings round each other. This is done with a heart and soul that lends intelligence and weight to a smarty-pants liaison that goes beyond mere wisecracks for some very serious fun. For all its tangled webs they weave, they still manage to leave us laughing as they go. 

The Herald, July 16th 2018 

ends


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