Much Ado About Nothing

Brendan Deeds sees a fraternal interpretation of Shakespeare's classic

Director Rachel O’Riordan has made sure that whilst audiences may laugh at the wit of Much Ado About Nothing, they will never lose sight of the menace amongst the mirth.

Shakespeare’s comedy concerns two sets of lovers: Beatrice and Benedick, who swear never to marry, and Hero and Claudio, who find their wedding day destroyed by slanderous claims of infidelity.

O’Riordan explores how women are treated in a fractured patriarchal society, bringing the theme to the fore by choosing an all-male cast.

With a cast of seven, the actors play at least two characters each, with several members lumbered with three or four. There are instances where the strain is too much or the arrangement just doesn’t work.

It's an intriguing decision to have the actors change costume onstage and, when not involved in a scene, still remain in sight at all times. This is fitting for a play dealing with notions of transformation, disguise and performance.

O'Riordan makes sure none of the cast plays one character for very long, giving the whole production a mercurial quality.

Thanks to excellent characterisation from a wonderful cast, including the brilliant Frankie McCafferty, fluent staging and costume changes, the audience is rarely left confused.

There is an interesting symmetry with the casting of the lovers. Benedick and Hero are both played by Michael Condron while Claudio and Beatrice belong to Matt Odell.

There is a scene in which Beatrice and Claudio are onstage simultaneously. To do this Odell has to take off his coat and raise his voice to become Beatrice, and then an instant later, move aside, put the coat back on and return his voice to a masculine tone.

He copes with this admirably but the serious tone of the scene in the text it is eroded by the pantomime.

Later in the performance this curious doubling is more rewarding, especially as Beatrice urges Benedick to kill Claudio, crying, “Oh God that I were a man”. The casting makes the scene bristle with dramatic irony.

Both Odell and Condron put in fine performances. When Hero falls to the floor at what should be her wedding, crumbling under the assault of male slander, Odell’s cries will leave no heart unmoved.

Much Ado About Nothing runs from January 29 - February 24 in The Lyric Theatre, Belfast