Designer Joanna Parker anchors the action in the garden. A flower-dotted lawn thrusts into the groundlings’ patch of the auditorium and behind, a wall of lush green ivy clings to the exterior of the palazzo. It’s a gorgeously summery vision that’ll make you want to order a Pimm's, regardless of the time of year (unusually, the show opened in April and runs all the way through to October).
Lucy Phelps as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare's Globe. Photo: Manuel Harlan
In swapping the genders of governor Leonato and his brother Antonio, Bailey presents us with an all-female house, where suspense runs high and gossip flows fast as the women dress the table (Parker’s detailed vision realised here with a rustic swathe of Mediterranean crockery) in anticipation of the returning soldiers.
Lady of the house Leonata (an electric Katy Stephens) is a sexed-up, horny matchmaker, whose commitment to pairing off the younger generation sees her pin young Claudio down with kisses, carried away by her own passionate plan. Lucy Phelps as Beatrice – every bit the headstrong heroine, with mischief written on her face and a boyishness jostling against her learned elegance – delivers a similarly hammed-up performance, tumbling to emphasise her points and throwing a carousel of exaggerated facial expressions at the audience.
Joanne Howarth as Antonia and Katy Stephens as Leonata in Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare's Globe. Photo: Manuel Harlan
The arrival of the boys brings a laddish playfulness into the mix as we watch Ralph Davis’ deadpan, sarcastic Benedick and Ferdy Roberts’ twinkle-eyed Don Pedro affectionately rugby-tackle Patrick Osborne’s appropriately drippy, lovesick Claudio to the ground.
When, later, Don Pedro and Claudio turn the tables on Benedick, the hoodwinking of the proud bachelor becomes the humorous highlight of the show, with all those present employing immaculate comic timing as Davis scales a vine, crawls behind a wheelbarrow and flops into a flowerpot to hear of Beatrice's affections for him.
Bailey directs Claudio as a hormonal teen, not yet in control of his emotions and baffled by adult life. It makes sense of his sudden outburst against Hero (Nadi Kemp-Sayfi) during the first wedding scene, but doesn't prevent this sequence from jarring with the rest of the production, when the story’s humour is dialled up so high during the lead-up. Leonata’s ruthless condemning of her daughter sits especially at odds with the doting, carefree host we’ve watched until now.
Lucy Phelps as Beatrice and Ralph Davis as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare's Globe. Photo: Manuel Harlan
Bailey’s production playfully pokes fun at itself with its string of camply sung arias, wicker animal masks worn for the ball and jaunty accordion music performed on no less (and in one comical scene, more) than five button and piano squeezeboxes. This self-mockery runs throughout and culminates in the traditional last dance, with the players cocking their legs in unison, like territorial dogs, to final hoots from the crowd.
Bailey’s Much Ado flows like a high-energy, silly summer of fun; one built on heady romance and (nearly) 'good vibes only'. It’s without question a timely revival, as we’re gearing up for the first summer free from Covid restrictions and travel bans in three years.
|What||Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s Globe review|
|Where||The Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London, SE1 9DT | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Blackfriars (underground)|
22 Apr 22 – 23 Oct 22, Performance times vary
|Price||£5 - £62|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|