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Review Round-up: Globe’s Leads Cause Much Ado

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Shakespeare's Globe's production of {Much Ado About Nothing::L01024355000} opened last night (26 May, previews from 21 May 2011) with Eve Best and Charles Edwards as sparring lovers Beatrice and Benedick. Shakespeare’s Much Ado sees the couple engaged in a “merry war”, declaring their scorn for love, marriage, and each other. Director Jeremy Herrin makes his Globe debut with the production, which continues in rep until 1 October 2011.

Best and Edwards are joined in the cast by Paul Hunter, Matthew Pidgeon, Ewan Stewart, Joe Caffrey, Phillip Cumbrus, Marcus Griffiths, Adrian Hood, Lisa McGrillis, David Nellist, John Stahl, Ony Uhiara and Helen Weir.

Herrin’s production opens less than a week before the much-anticipated West End outing of Catherine Tate and David Tennant who tackle the play at the Wyndham's Theatre. Josie Rourke's production of Much Ado opens on Wednesday (1 June, previews from 21 May).

As the critics note, Best and Edwards have thrown down the gauntlett.

Maxwell Cooter

Eve Best invests in Beatrice a fiery spirit allied to her natural wit. There's a natural reluctance to trust her instincts about Benedick - the couple's history seems to have left its mark and Best presents more of Beatrice’s vulnerability than is usual ... There's cruelty too with her hysterical laughter when she rejects Ewan Stewart’s plain-speaking Don Pedro. There's little of the martial combatant in Charles Edwards' rather camp Benedick ... One of the key advantages of the Globe is the closeness to the audience and Herrin's production scores highly here ... And the cheer when the lovers finally kissed was the biggest I've heard at the Globe. Edwards plays Benedick like a music-hall comedian, there’s also a touch of variety about the constables too – I found Paul Hunter's Jack Douglas-like Dogberry rather tedious but there's some good business with some lantern and Adrian Hood's bovine Verges makes a good counterpoint to this fussy Dogberry. If you get your Beatrice and Benedick right, then the production normally works. The Globe has succeeded triumphantly here – it will be a hard act for Wyndham's to follow next week.”

Fiona Mountford
Evening Standard

“One of the many joys of Beatrice and Benedick is that they are characters with a history and can be portrayed, to rich and poignant effect, as people of a certain age ... Eve Best... and Charles Edwards are a felicitous pairing, revelling in this "merry war" of words ... Best and Edwards tuck into their big set-pieces with relish ... Director Jeremy Herrin, acclaimed for his fine work with new writing at the Royal Court, brings a useful sharpness and freshness to proceedings. Occasionally the comedy is a little too broad, but it really matters to us that this relationship works out. Mike Britton's sunny set, with oranges growing overhead and flowers popping up at the sides, reflects both the Messina setting and the mood of this central pairing. Elsewhere, Ony Uhiara and Philip Cumbus do nothing to enliven the dreariness of Hero and Claudio, and every line uttered by Paul Hunter's Benny Hill-esque Dogberry becomes a torture. It's Much Ado about Beatrice and Benedick; Tate and Tennant have worthy rivals.”

Libby Purves
The Times

Charles Edwards, lately a glorious Aguecheek in Peter Hall’s Twelfth Night, is an impertinently quiffed city-boy of a Benedick, matched by Eve Best as a striding, larky, impatient bluestocking Beatrice ... They quarrel briskly, confide in the groundlings, dart humiliatingly behind laundry... suffer a perilous descent by rope ... It takes adversity — the near-tragedy of her cousin Hero’s betrayal and shaming — to shake both into the solid value of love and loyalty. They give us that progress with wit and honesty. When Edwards says ‘I do love nothing in the world as well as you — is that not strange?’ his sudden straightness tugs the heart, as it should … The whole is set behind some fish ponds in which Beatrice paddles barefoot at the start, a nice symptom of her reckless informality, and directed with plenty of life by Jeremy Herrin. I could wish for a firm hand to cut down the show-off tics of Paul Hunter’s Dogberry — for Heaven’s sake, surely the malapropisms are enough? — but Adrian Hood’s vast, lugubrious Verges is very funny, and David Nellist is a memorably daft and dignified Constable Seacoal, in a moustache that I very much hope is not his own.”

Julie Carpenter
Daily Express

“Tennant and Tate will have to go some way to outdo Eve Best and Charles Edwards as romantic sparring partners Beatrice and Benedick ... (It) is spirited from the start and an absolute natural on the Globe’s stage, effortlessly winning over the groundlings with her lively put-downs. At the start of the play Edwards’ Benedick can’t even pronounce the word ‘husband’ it so offends him but he always maintains an affability and charm which is crucial in keeping the audience on his side – and sometimes in fits ... Best is particularly good at conveying the vulnerability beneath her protective armour and we believe that theirs is a deep, solid relationship. Always more difficult to swallow are the two-dimensional romantic “leads” of Hero and Claudio. Philip Cumbus’ Claudio is less sympathetic than some but his testy impetuousness at the start does make his brutal humiliation of Hero ... Standing out among the smaller roles is Paul Hunter ... Hunter’s series of surreal verbal and physical ticks recall Bob Mortimer or a Monty Python extra and as far as my companion was concerned, he stole the show. For me, it was all about Beatrice and Benedick.”

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

Eve Best and Charles Edwards are a beautifully balanced Beatrice and Benedick, the reluctant lovers ... Mr Edwards (a cross between Michael Palin and Gordon Ramsay) wrings every droplet of laughter from his lines ... The very best Much Ados touch the heart as much as they do the funny bone. This inclines more to the comic, and the ending omits the sense of military menace which is sometimes favoured. But it is all done with tremendous vim. That is the great thing about the Globe under artistic director Dominic Dromgoole: there is an admirable energy about the place. By the end of this show on Monday night, the whole theatre was ooh-ing, aah-ing and clapping manically during a long-awaited kiss. Director Jeremy Herrin dresses his musicians in outfits that make them look more like Hare Krishna devotees than court minstrels, but it’s hard to find too much wrong with this Much Ado.”

- Matt Hannigan

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