Review: Much Ado About Nothing at the Royal Exchange Manchester

Ellie Piercy as Beatrice, Paul Ready as Benedick. Photo Jonathan Keenan

Ellie Piercy as Beatrice, Paul Ready as Benedick. Photo Jonathan Keenan

Maria Aberg’s As You Like It, performed in Stratford for the Royal Shakespeare Company last summer, was as beautiful and joyous as a Shakespearean production (or any theatre) can be. Her current production of Much Ado About Nothing for the Royal Exchange Manchester almost scales the same heights – indeed it does in most aspects but for minor reservations.

This is the second Much Ado in recent months set in the second world war. It captures a time of common purpose but also uncertainty, exhilaration and scarcity of means. Away from the battlefields, the men are weary and out of place, the women are in charge in a way previously unthinkable. With the character of Leonato changing sex – and played beautifully by Marty Cruickshank – there is a clear vision of women taking control and changing the world. In that sense, the lies targeted at Hero aren’t a random conspiracy but an ugly throwback threatening a better future.

The spectre of war is subtly present, no more so than when Benedick reasons “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married”. Continue reading