JOYCE MCMILLAN on MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 16.7.13.
4 stars ****
IT HAD TO HAPPEN, and here it is. In the age when civil partnership for gay couples is maturing into gay marriage, here’s a version of Shakespeare’s great marriage-comedy that tranforms the witty heroine, Beatrice, into a smart young bloke called Bertram, and celebrates his gay romance with the battled-scarred hero Benedick, alongside the boy-girl wooing of the play’s second couple, Hero and Claudio.
If there are elements of culture-shock and sheer dissonance about Gordon Barr’s merry production, though – the sight of a partriarch in mediaeval garb cheerfully seeking a husband for his gay nephew, or the moment when young Bertram confesses to having been Hero’s innocent “bedfellow” – what’s mainly surprising is how little the play is disturbed by this radical shift in its main relationship. James Ronan is a superb and witty Benedick, although Robert Elkin’s super-camp Bertram is perhaps a shade too frantic for romance. Lauren Hurwood is magnificent as the wronged and slandered Hero, left for dead after Claudio cruelly rejects her at the altar; and Ben Clifford gives a thoughtful performance as the villain Don John, foreshadowing the malignant character of Iago in Othello.
The production suffers a little, I think, from being trapped on the small wooden outdoor stage that served for last month’s production of Othello; the play’s hilarious eavesdropping scenes cry out to be played in a real garden. Yet the strength-in-depth of the acting is impressive, with Louise McCarthy turning in a memorable double performance as the sexy serving-woman Margaret, and the constable, Dogberry. And when we reach the play’s glorious finale – with Hero restored to life and love, and Benedick and Bertram at last admitting their mutual passion – the effect is like a gorgeous double wedding between a gay couple and a straight one; something that may well happen for real, in Scotland and England, before many more years have passed.