Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Moving Parts Theatre

Lots of interesting ideas in Moving Parts Theatre’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, touring outdoor venues in England

“If it had been painful, I would not have come”

Even with a relatively limited list of plays to choose from, companies that seek to deliver outdoor Shakespeare in the summer months need to carefully balance adventurousness with appeal. There’s a reason we don’t see many touring Timon of Athens or pop-up Pericles and so Moving Parts Theatre Company have opted for Much Ado About Nothing for their 2024 production, but have chosen to relocate it to 1960s Sicily, a patriarchal society brimming on the edge of change.

Simona Hughes’ production sings with interesting ideas. Emphasising the Southern Italian setting offers renewed context – the urging to “kill Claudio” really does make more sense coming from a Sicilian temperament. And Don Pedro and his men being mafioso offers something of a rationale for their performative masculinity and hotly judgmental behaviour, particularly around Claudio’s dickishness. It’s then a shame that the Watch scenes revert to an English country bumpkin mode of foolery which sits at odds with all this.

So too does the choice to promote Margaret and Borachio to the role of troubadouring puppet-masters in the story. Katrina Michaels and Will Beynon get to show off strong voices and much musical talent and it’s all light touch (suggested through conspiratorial looks and gestures rather than textual changes) and effective, when their manipulations are about the early matchmaking. It’s a little harder to follow the thread at the point at which they meaningfully enter the story though, accepting bribes to engineer her impersonation of Hero, which will ruin the wedding that they’ve been trying to make happen….

If the intent there isn’t always the clearest (and I did catch an early performance), in and around these innovations sits a strong reading of the play. So much of Much Ado… rests on the shoulders of its Beatrice and Benedick and Joanna Nevin and Martin South really do deliver. Both bringing rich, lived-in characterisation to their parts, theirs is a chemistry that feels hard-won, each having bruised the soul of the other, their eventual and still reluctant coming together is beautifully pitched. (Nevin also scores points for giving me goosebumps with “There was a star danced…” and no, it wasn’t just the cold!).

Hughes’ direction plays well with the intimacy of being in-the-round, cleverly staging the two gulling scenes by engaging the audience, with Isaac Insley’s set design keeping things open and flexible. There’s much use of music, original compositions from Tamara Douglas-Morris underscoring the action beautifully, sitting alongside 1960s Italian pop in a cheering finale. There’s also impressive number of a costumes (designed by Kathleen Morrison) for an outdoors show, two small tents getting a lot of use to showcase a whole array of bright 60s prints in shirts and dresses.

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