Much Ado About Nothing (Cambridge)
Fresh from an international tour, following the one of the UK this spring and early summer, the pared-down staging by Shakespeare's Globe on Tour of one of the most popular comedies has alighted in the Master's Garden of Corpus Christi College before going north to Windermere and Penrith.
The Messina where the plot of Much Ado About Nothing is laid is still in Sicily, but one of the early 1950s rather than the late Renaissance. it allows for a slight blurring of social differences; Robert Pickavance's Leonato is more of a businessman than a walled town's governor, for example.
Max Webster's production uses eight actors – which allows for some interesting role-doubling. Joy Richardson, for example, is the bombastic Borachio and his dupe Margaret; she also plays the Friar whose wisdom foils Don John's plot. it's surprising what can be indicated a brisk change of headgear, a belted cassock or a billowing cloak.
Don John, that taciturn villain, is Chris Starkie, doubling as the hilariously incompetent and grammatically challenged Dogberry. Jim Kitson's urbane Don Pedro is matched by his stuttering watchman, just as Sam Phillips' calculating Claudio is balanced by a second, well-meaning watchman.
James Cotterill's set design, all golden ochres, allows for some interesting symbolism. Benedick (Simon Bubb) retreats not to an orchard but hides behind a pile of crates, one of which he then knocks over to spill a cascade of oranges across the stage.
For Hero (Gemma Lawrence)'s wedding, the stage is draped with swags of orange-blossom, representing innocence and purity. It gives an acid bite to Claudio's denunciation of her as a "rotten orange".
The core of the comedy in all its plot and counter-plot turns is, of course the relationship between Beatrice (Emma Pallant) and Benedick. Between them they manage the "Kill Claudio" injunction and its aftermath with a quiet sincerity which grips the audience as much as the two people with these newly-aroused impulses.
Bubb is thoroughly credible as the young officer forced for once to take something in civilian life as seriously as do the non-military citizens. Pallant's Beatrice is a delight; she overhears Hero and Margaret while they're hanging out the laundry, creeps nearer and is duly drenched. No wonder she turns up next morning croaking: "I am stuff'd, cousin. I cannot smell"!
Much Ado About Nothing is in the Master's Garden of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge until 31 August.