Mel Giedroyc serves up a fine Beatrice in this agreeably loopy production
Mel Giedroyc is known for some dubious continental accents as co-host on ‘The Great British Bake Off’: thankfully, they’re not in evidence in this witty take on Shakespeare’s comedy, set in Sicily. What does stay is a formidable vein of physical humour. Together with John Hopkins, of ‘Midsomer Murders’ and ‘Poldark’ fame, she battles her way through a romance that unfolds entirely against her better judgement. When he declares his love, she whips out a dead fish to menace him with. When he tries to inch closer to her, he tumbles down a flight of stairs.
Director Simon Dormandy sets the action in a kind of luxury hotel – ripe for some rather limp Brits-on-tour visual gags in the opening sequence (please can we leave the gay panic jokes in the ’70s?). But it’s also a smart move: this hotel’s run by a Mafia family, whose panic when local boss Don Pedro comes to town ramps up the play’s often neglected background
This might be a comedy, but it’s set in a grim patriarchal society that’s underpinned by paranoia and mutual distrust. Beatrice and Benedick’s courtship is immature, but fundamentally grown-up, both in terms of their ages, and their knowledge of each other. By contrast, the courtship of the play’s second couple, the younger Hero and Claudio, is both juvenile and utterly dysfunctional. She’s handed to him, a man she hardly knows, by a father operating under a mob boss’s persuasion. Calam Lynch, making his stage debut as Claudio, makes a convincingly young, snarling, short-fused suitor: ready to publically humiliate a woman he wooed without even having a conversation with her. Their marriage at the play’s ‘happy’ ending feels bittersweet, leaving him and Hero to forge some kind of understanding.
Still, the Mafia stylings of Dormandy’s production are only intermittently menacing, treading a fine line between heightened spaghetti western drama and cartoonish silliness – a black-clad Sicilian dance is undercut by horseplay, the gun scenes feel a tiny bit Boy Scout. Some of its best moments are the silliest: like the utterly batshit masked ball, featuring Beatrice pratting about in a giant inflatable cow costume. This silliness doesn’t quite mesh with the underlying bleakness, but it speeds us through a strange, contradictory story that’s lit up by a memorably daffy romance.
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Absolutely wonderful. Having seen David Tennant and Catherine Tate take on the same roles, although different in many ways, just as good. Be careful when watching other versions because it can damage your opinion of the play, because they are different, but lovely in their different ways. I spent time at the Q&A, and know that, John Hopkins for one, was careful that every action made in the play, was justified - and was all round a beautiful performance.