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Much Ado About Nothing at the Crucible Theatre and on tour – review

The Sheffield Theatres and Ramps on the Moon co-production will also visit Leeds Playhouse, Birmingham Rep, Nottingham Playhouse, Ipswich's New Wolsey Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Salisbury Playhouse

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Guy Rhys and Daneka Etchells in Much Ado About Nothing
© Johan Persson

Sheffield Theatres and Ramps on the Moon's Much Ado About Nothing is in many ways remarkable, but, after a charming opening, it's nearly half-time before it really gets its teeth into Shakespeare's text.

The first impression is the size of the cast, 18 actors, very generous outside of London and Stratford. A closer look discloses the fact that at least four had changed gender. Don John gains a certain slinky menace as Donna Joanna in the hands of Fatima Niemogha and turning Leonato's brother into his wife (Karina Jones) works well.

As per usual, Ramps on the Moon presents a cast with a wide range of disabilities, giving a whole new perspective on the play and adding insights to scenes. In the case of Dogberry and Verges (a wittily camp Lee Farrell), one of Shakespeare's best double acts is re-shaped.

At the beginning, the cast members assemble upstage around a long table, then burst forward to tell us who they are, what they're wearing and how they will communicate – cleverly done, engaging the audience from the start. Margaret, for instance, speaks for Hero and emerges as more of a character in Laura Goulden's performance, though this does generate more of a problem of Margaret's guilt. Amy Helena's by-play with the rest of the cast, which happens in her time off from playing Seacole, is another example of Ramps at their best.

The first half, with steady performances from the leading players (who somehow become less leading players with the dissipation of interest through normally smaller parts), never quite lives up to this opening: it never has the pace and zip that one is looking for.

Then, minutes before the interval, Borachio and Margaret frame Hero, Donna Joanna positions Don Pedro and Claudio perfectly and we are into a quite different play and production. The second half, apart from some unfortunate country and western, seems much more sure-footed.

Claire Wetherall's Hero finds agonising power as she signs to Friar Francis' account of what she should do now. Taku Mutero's Claudio, rather plain till then (not alone in that – it's a thankless part), takes on his guilt nobly. Daneka Etchells (Beatrice) and Guy Rhys (Benedick) confront each other with enormous power – then enormous love. The "merry war" lacks wit initially; this final confrontation gives us passion instead, though it has to be said that "Kill Claudio!" getting one of the biggest laughs of the evening is worrying!