All the boys are dressed as girls, and all the girls are dressed as boys. This is the first surprise from Arkle Theatre – they bend the gender of every member of the cast to add a twist to this Shakespeare classic, which was in its day controversial for challenging accepted gender stereotypes.
The venue has a club atmosphere, because it is one, and being able to sit down and enjoy a drink in a comfy lounge before you are invited downstairs for the show is a nice start to your evening’s entertainment.
Gentle music is being played by three girls seated by the side of the stage as you enter the auditorium, and once you’re seated, you notice, looking a little more closely, that the girls are actually boys.
The play itself is of course well known, but its twists of plot and use of deception, disguise and eavesdropping can make this work a challenge to stage effectively. The company rise to this challenge well, with very simple staging allowing one to focus on the dialogue and the interaction of the players, and the timing and pace of the dialogue is excellent.
Unusually for Shakespeare, almost all of this play is in prose, rather than verse, making for more natural sounding dialogue, with the verse sections adding more energy and brio. The central themes – the assumed roles of opposite sexes, infidelity, deception, and mistaken identity all weave together to provide wicked entertainment, and the quality of performances in this production are all the more remarkable given the gender reversal. In Shakespeare’s time ‘nothing’ and ‘noting’ were homophones, and it’s worth remembering this when enjoying the play on words that takes place around this – the play could as easily be called ‘Much Ado about Noting’.
The standout roles in Much Ado are Benedick and Beatrice, and both Bronagh Finlay as Benedick and Paul Beeson as Beatrice are eloquent, confident and convincing in their parts, and especially when they are alone together, have a credible chemistry as they move from being each other’s critic to each other’s admirer. The successful interplay between them is all the more remarkable given that you’re observing both actors playing the opposite sex. But it works, as it does for all the cast, and it’s a clever reset of Shakespeare’s original intent when mocking stereotypes, and deriding the male’s supposed superiority, along with mocking that sex’s all-to-easy belief in infidelity.
All of the performers interact and deliver their roles superbly, with a great comic performance from Elsie Horobin as the Head Constable also standing out. Simple lighting, props and sound effects add to rather than distract from enjoyment, indeed this pared-back simplicity adds impact to the whole piece.
This is a tight, dramatically satisfying spectacle with crisp dialogue, skilled performances and well-paced direction, all in a simply staged yet intimate setting. It’s a very enjoyable and accomplished performance of a classic that will make you laugh and smile.
> Click here to book this show now
Aug 18-22 at 18:15 (1h30)
Venue 241 – The Royal Scots Club, 29-31 Abercromby Place