Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Gray’s Inn Hall

Antic Disposition move Much Ado About Nothing to 1940s France with much success, and play it in the austere surroundings of Gray’s Inn Hall

“There was a star danced, and under that was I born”

Bienvenue à la Place de Messina pour Beaucoup de bruit pour rien. For Antic Disposition’s take on Much Ado About Nothing relocates Shakespeare’s evergreen comedy in the summer of 1945 in a village in rural France. War is over, the checked tablecloths are out, the vin rosé (or Orangina si tu veux) is flowing and with an Anglo-French company, a hugely characterful take on the play emerges.

Drawing on the influence of Jacques Tati to deliver a unique blend of physical comedy and neatly observed verse-reading, co-directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero transport the play effortlessly into this new milieu. Louis Bernard’s Dogberry is a complete revelation in this respect, a constant presence since he’s the manager of the village bar and to be honest, I could watch a whole play of him just bumbling about with his comic shenanigans. 

This bolder comic style also bleeds through to this Benedick and Béatrice. Nicholas Osmond blusters well but it is Chiraz Aïch whose confidence and compassion really impresses. And they’re balanced well by a sweetly matched Floriane Andersen and Alexander Varey as Hero and Claudio, though the strength of the funny stuff makes to long for the Watch (which is something I never thought I’d say!).  

The venue for this production is also of real interest as it is one which isn’t normally publicly accessible. Gray’s Inn Hall is one of the few remaining original Shakespearean venues, having hosted the first recorded performance of The Comedy of Errors in 1594 and is a hugely atmospheric and idiosyncratic space. The staging in long traverse necessarily produces some clever innovations – the gulling scenes contain much more hiding in plain sight than you’d ever think would work, and there’s much fun in smashing the fourth wall.

My only note came with the somewhat rose-tinted version of post-VE rural France, this isn’t a society that has visibly suffered any kind of privation, nor any reference made to the losses of the previous six years, and that made me feel just a little bit off. But as the exuberant music (played live) strikes up and the sense of celebration kicks in, maybe it is just a time to surrender to the joys of  unexpected human connection.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Scott Rylander
Much Ado About Nothing is booking at Gray’s Inn Hall until 1st September

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