Much Ado About Nothing at the Abbey Theatre, St Albans

IF ever there was a quintessential Shakespeare play it is Much Ado About Nothing.

Classified as a comedy – and it does have some funny scenes – it is also a history which says a lot about society and potentially a tragedy.

All those elements are brought out in the current Company of Ten production of Much Ado About Nothing which is part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Open Stages project and is followed next week by Sonnets in the Studio.

Director Angela Stone – who poignantly is directing the production in memory of her late husband David – chooses to set it in Ireland in 1900 at a time of upheaval in that country including the founding of Sinn Fein and the development of the women’s suffrage movement.

She must have been delighted by the remarkable courtyard set created by the Company of Ten’s construction team – clever, clean-lined and functional.

As a result of the Irish 19th-Century setting Don Pedro becomes Don Peter, head of the army, and Leonato, an Irish landowner and Lord Lieutenant of the county.

The two male protagonists, Benedick and Claudio, are army officers while their inamoratas, Beatrice and Hero, take traditional roles as women of the house of Leonato.

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Although in the past, I have criticised theatre companies who have unnecessarily moved Shakespeare plays into a different period, this one works well. Nothing is lost by moving it forward 300 years and while purists would probably be critical of some of the Irish accents, a lot is gained.

Angela’s vision is aided by a good cast with special mention due to Craig Duncombe as the roguish Borachio, David Lodge as the constable Dogberry and Roy Bookham as his second in command Verges.

Marlon Gill as Benedick, with and without the beard, and Alison Wright as Beatrice, give strong performances while Anna Fordham as Hero and Jack O’Brien as Claudio do their best with two characters who pale into insignificance next to their livelier counterparts.

Special mention should also go to Stuart Harding as Balthasar and Clive Webb as a corporal who bring music into the mix.

Much Ado About Nothing runs until Saturday and tickets can be obtained from the box office on 01727 857861 or