Much Ado About Nothing at the Viaduct Theatre, Halifax and touring
For those who have failed to experience a Northern Broadsides production an explanation of their performance methods may appear, at best, a trifle gimmicky. They tackle classic texts but infuse them with a northern dialect. To misinformed elitists who would prefer a more formal and 'sacrosanct' approach, this probably sounds like an alienation technique of Brechtian proportions. But by forsaking the experimental staging stunts that plague a host of Shakespeare productions in favour of foregrounding the text, Barrie Rutter's company probably get closer to the original spirit than most.
Much Ado About Nothing follows the Broadsides template. Costumes are emblematic, the props and set are merely functional, the action can take place wherever the hell you imagine it to be - the language is everything. Well, nearly. The pipers, or in this instance the barber shop quartet and jazz/skiffle/rock 'n' roll ensemble, strike up an amazing cacophony of music, while Sue Coe's reveller's choreography is an interesting blend of folk and jive.
John Gully is a nasty bit of business, in his seedy PVC overcoat, as Don John - every inch the bastard in his efforts to get in the way of the love of Michelle Hardwick's coy and innocent Hero and Andy Wear's slightly wet Claudio. Though it is of course the love between Benedick (Conrad Nelson) and Beatrice (Deborah McAndrew) that the audience enjoy getting entangled in. That Nelson and McAndrew are a real life married couple ensures, once you cast aside the Ken-and-Emma-ness of the situation, that there is a lot of sexual chemistry lighting the stage. It almost feels voyeuristic and, one wonders, do these two behave like this at home and would Conrad really kill Claudio if his Debbie asked? Nelson perfectly flits between the ridiculous, at times camp, side of Benedick and the character's maturing and learned charm.
Rutter himself gets plenty of laughs and gives a playful display as Dogberry, revelling in the constable's disastrous use of language, while Geoffrey Leesley is an imposing Leonato.
Everything is appropriate, everything works and the result is a rich evening of enjoyment, not endurance. This is anti-elitist theatre for the common people with no smack of inverted snobbery - it makes you want to eat Shakespeare. If only it all tasted like this.