Much Ado About Nothing at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park
There are many reasons why a Shakespeare play is updated to more modern times, but normally such reasons stem from stark parallels between the events of that particular period and the text of the play. Reasoning, however, doesn't apply on this occasion, in which Much Ado is transplanted to a World War II setting.
Presumably, director Rachel Kavanaugh must have thought it would be a good idea to present Dogberry's watch as a Dad's Army platoon. Admittedly, Ian Talbot makes a good stab at playing Captain Mainwaring playing Dogberry, and John Conroy makes an even better fist of the Sgt Wilson-like Verges, but you have to ask what's the point.
It's a one joke idea, and in the playing of it, a lot of Dogberry's more outrageous malapropisms have been lost. And besides, if a modernisation was necessary, surely the soldiers should not have not been part of the British army - the references in the text to Italians sit uneasily with the portrayal of so English a regiment.
The ending of this production is also unconvincing. Don Pedro should be quite a mournful figure - unmatched and unwanted. When Benedick says 'Get thee a wife', you know there's no one for him. But here, when Don Pedro is left facing his errant brother, the scene looks tagged on and makes for a bit of an anti-climax.
A good play needs no gimmicks and with Much Ado, all you really ask is that the actors playing Beatrice and Benedick show some spark and that the play's complete. At least, this production has two suitable performers in the leads. Nicola Redmond is a particularly sharp-tongued Beatrice. She makes her first appearance looking like a cross between Lauren Bacall and Carole Lombard and turns up at the ball in Marlene Dietrich drag. This is a sardonic woman, seemingly well aware of her superiority over Benedick and fully confident.
Tom Mannion, with his mournful Glaswegian tones, makes for a hangdog Benedic. But this is no meeting of minds, Mannion's Benedick is always striving to keep up with Beatrice's wit. There's little doubt who'll be wearing the trousers in this particular marriage - as emphasised by Benedick's appearance in the last scene wearing his kilt, an interesting complement for Beatrice's masculine garb.
The other impressive performance is from Harry Burton as Don John. It 's all too easy to play this part as a pantomime villain, but Burton shows admirable restraint. For the most part, though, the cast tries too hard with this production.
Still, Much Ado is, after all, a classic, robust enough to survive most tinkering - and, of course, it's always worth seeing the bard's work in this delightful Regent's Park setting.