'Much Ado' gets an Edwardian update at London's Theatre Royal Haymarket - review

As with any Shakespeare I expected to spend the first five minutes of this Much Ado getting used to the verse. But for the first time ever this didn’t happen due to the clarity and precision of the actors from the first line through to the last. A production of Much Ado sinks or swims on the casting of Beatrice and Benedick. But with Lisa Dillon and Edward Bennett playing the roles, this production not only swims but wins the race. Claws are sharpened and fur flies from the moment these two lovers lock eyes and the famous battle of the sexes commences. Beatrice could easily become annoying with her relentless tirade of sarcasm, scorn and wit, a bit like the drunk friend who thinks they are constantly funny. However, Dillon provides us with tiny cracks in her armour suggesting a vulnerability, a deep fear of facing her true emotions. Dillon offers a multi-layered and nuanced performance. Her speech when she finally owns her feelings for Benedick is both beautiful and moving. Bennett throws himself into the campness and frivolity of Benedick with wild abandon. His clowning antics have a real danger of falling flat: this never happens here and we are rewarded with belly laughs that actually stop the show. I salute his bravery. The production takes a deliciously dark turn in the second half with so many moments hitting the mark. At a time when sexism and misogyny dominate headlines, Dillon’s ‘Oh, that I were a man!’ speech is golden. Leonato’s (Steven Pacey) sense of hurt and pain at his daughter’s supposed betrayal is profound and Nick Haverson’s star turn as the constable Dogberry is a masterclass in comic timing, slapstick and physical comedy. Set design by Simon Higlett presents a stunning Edwardian stately home on a country estate in deep winter and is breathtaking. The setting for this production is the immediate aftermath of the Great War and the music from the live band acts as an extra character, with Harry Waller as Balthasar serving as our resident Noel Coward at the piano. His beautiful voice along with the sentimental love songs, the latest dance crazes, and the mix of classical and popular music of the era, leaves you feeling like you’ve had a hot toddy or a warm embrace – and are ready to face Christmas. four-star-review     Much Ado About Nothing is at London's Theatre Royal Haymarket until March 18. To book click here. For more of the best deals on tickets and shows, visit tickets.attitude.co.uk. Words: Matthew Hyde More stories: Colton Haynes gives fans exactly that they want for Christmas Interview | Wentworth Miller talks mental health, Hollywood and homophobia