Much Ado About Nothing

Noni Stapleton, Grace Kelley and Martina Carey in 'Much Ado About Nothing' presented by AC Productions.

Noni Stapleton, Grace Kelley and Martina Carey in 'Much Ado About Nothing' presented by AC Productions.

'Much Ado About Nothing' by William Shakespeare presented by AC Productions.

'Much Ado About Nothing' by William Shakespeare presented by AC Productions.

Although in existence as a professional, independent company since 2004, with a number of productions under its belt, it’s fair to say that AC Productions straddles the line between amateur and professional standards. This is worth bearing in mind when viewing the work, not least of all because, in an ideal world, there would be room for everyone to do as they wished. Nonetheless, with Much Ado About Nothing, the company really seems to have over-stretched itself, and the result is a very weak production.

In terms of the script itself, this is about as light and straight-forward as Shakespeare gets: Benedick (Devlin) and Beatrice (Cusack) are tricked into proclaiming their love for each other, while Claudio (Donelan) is duped into rejecting Hero (Kelley) at the altar by Don Jon (Kellegher). Truth and love win out, and everyone celebrates with a bit of a party. While remaining in the Italy of the play’s original setting, this production updates the action with contemporary dress, patio furniture and coffee cups. Devlin turns out the most consistent, fluent performance, and in his very brief appearance John Doran, who plays the part of Oatcake, shows some real physical promise, while also managing to raise a few laughs.

To put it plainly, the production suffers from poor direction and quite a few weak performances. Actors walk on stage like school children at an assembly until they find their designated spots. More often than not, they line the front of the stage, facing outward at the audience to have conversations with each other. Those who are not speaking are left idle, sometimes trying to convey involvement with uninvited smiles and nods, although frequently, they just zone out. Showing no evidence of ensemble direction, the large cast looks unwieldy during group scenes, which is one of the production’s biggest downfalls. Most of the actors speak in that faux British accent that some people think you should do Shakespeare in. Low-key, naturalistic Shakespeare is just not easy to pull off.

The upper stage is lined with potted plants and a flowered, arched trellis which never budges throughout, except when someone hides conspicuously behind it. Although the play has a contemporary look, it doesn’t have a contemporary nuance or hook. Not a big deal until one of the constables is emphatically referred to as "CUNTstable." Despite being set in an affluent Italian estate, there is nothing stylish or visually seductive about the staging. Rather, the performance lacks a guiding concept, spark and fluidity, feeling very heavy and static instead.

More generally, the production reveals very little rigour or creative daring. At almost three hours long, in the rising heat of the Project Cube space, I couldn’t help wish that the company made some bold or at least interesting performance choices, rather than primarily rely on its actors to mouth words. And while I appreciate that this is a small, aspirational company, isn’t this kind of risk-taking exactly what such companies should be doing?

Fintan Walsh is lecturer in Drama, Theatre and Performance at Queen Mary University, London.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

14 - 25 August, 2012

Produced by AC Productions
In Project Arts Centre

Directed by Peter Reid

Lighting: John Crudden

Costumes: Sandra Phillips

With: Padraig Murrary, Andy Kellegher, Nick Devlin, Conor Donelan, Kevin Shackleton, Neill Fleming, Micheal O’Sullivan, Grace Kellet, Alex Cusack, Noni Stapleton, Martina Carey, Vincent Fagan, Dick Tobin, Terry Orr, Stephen Colfer and John Doran.