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Mixed emotions over all-female cast fails to dent enjoyment



Review by Oli Burley

HANDING an all-female cast control of a play packed with gender tension sounds like a ploy capable of riling half its audience.

But the good news for already-harassed husbands is that the Globe’s new version of Much Ado About Nothing is more infectious than ridiculous.

William Shakespeare’s comedy of love denied, then finally ratified, depends not so much on its plot as the sharpness of its humour, and, in this case, Tamara Harvey’s version certainly delivers.

Laughs there are aplenty, Sarah Woodward’s pantomime depiction of constable Dogberry proving a particular hit with the groundlings.

But the play’s main attraction – in every sense – hangs on the verbal jousting between Beatrice (Yolanda Vazquez) and Benedick (Josie Lawrence).

The early signs suggest a bachelor’s garb does not hang well on Lawrence; her gait lacks sufficient swagger, her argument demands more thrust.

When Beatrice declares 'he that hath no beard is less than a man', the fact is already all too evident to the audience.

But to her credit, Lawrence gradually closes the actor-character gender divide, proving particularly cruel when lampooning the lover, Claudio.

In mischief, the play certainly excels; Claudio, played powerfully by Ann Ogbomo, positively revels in a scheme to convince Benedick of Beatrice’s ‘love’; the mirror-image trick played out by Hero (Mariah Gale) and Ursula is, likewise, delicious.

The levity does vanish after the interval, as Claudio dumps Hero at the altar, transforming Penelope Beaumont’s wonderfully understated Leonato into a fuming, furious father.

Gale also comes into her own, her fleeting portrayal of woman-wronged a moving mix of innocence and patience that cries out for more stage time.

Whereas Beaumont’s performance is a strong argument for single-sex casts, it is hard to believe that any male could match Gale’s femininity.

Hence, the need for Harvey to deploy an all-female cast remains open to question and as enjoyable as the play is, it is difficult not to share the characters’ mixed emotions.

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