The Globe’s Much Ado About Nothing is probably the most traditional staging of Shakespeare seen during Emma Rice’s controversial, short-lived tenure as artistic director.
Sure, the action is transferred to revolutionary Mexico, but as a setting it’s consonant with the material, and far from detracting, it breathes life and colour into a play that can otherwise feel too familiar.
Embroidered dresses whirl and flourish; a visual treat among many in a production stuffed with stilt-walking, dance and music. It’s also packed with cultural clichés, but they are at least well-intentioned; there are sombreros aplenty, but a line is drawn on the respectable side of Speedy Gonzales accents. A railway cattle car fills the back of the stage, with its sliding doors and windows providing ample opportunity for farcical snooping.
Beatriz Romilly and Matthew Needham are likeable as the antagonistic lovers Beatrice and Benedick, but there are no fireworks between them, and the decision to gender-flip the villainous Don Juan to Juana is largely inconsequential. Although nobody stands out, a well-balanced ensemble gives minor players such as Claudio a greater share of the limelight, and the cast skilfully mines the text for humour and embellishes it with slapstick to deliver a lively romantic comedy.