Much Ado about Nothing (Warwick University Drama Society) @ B2, Belgrade Theatre

Some productions just aren’t worth writing about, and WUDS’ new Much Ado about Nothing is one of them. It’s one of their biggest ventures yet, taking over the Belgrade’s new studio space, and it’s a shame that the Coventry audience’s first exposure to the student group is one of the poorest Shakespeare productions I’ve ever seen.

The set was made up of a pallet podium and two cabinets filled with 840 oranges (that’s right, I was so bored I counted). Oranges were given out to the audience on arrival and eaten throughout the production, with seemingly no more relevance than Claudio’s insult of Hero as a “rotten orange” when spurning her at their wedding. However, the thousand-odd oranges in the space did result in a sickly atmosphere that left one feeling ill afterwards.

There was no overriding concept to this period-set production, no obvious reason for mounting the play, and no readings in any of the characters that strayed from the absolutely straightforward. Staging was uninventive; a few chorus extras moved ribbons around as they performed pieces of scenery, but this device tended to be more confusing than useful, particularly in Beatrice’s overhearing scene which saw the stage clustered with moving bodies to a point where the participants in the scene became lost.

Worst, however, were the individual performances. Almost all jokes fell flat, iambic verse was sounded out as if it was the actors’ first contact with the form and on-stage reactions were stilted and predictable. Beatrice and Benedick were the best of a bad bunch, but had precious little range, preferring instead to slip into a camp (him) and sarcastic (her) pattern which they maintained for the entire show with rare deviations. Leonato was particularly bad, Hero was pathetic and nasal, Don John simply bad and Verges unforgivable. A little life was provided by Briony Rawle’s sparky Margaret and Kate Richards’ loud Dogberry, but the latter frequently stumbled over her lines and the former simply didn’t have a big enough part.

The speaking was atrocious across the board, with not a single good performance. Lines were muddled, dance moves misstepped, even the band were often out of tune. Long dance scenes dragged on for an age despite doing nothing for the plot, and the pace was achingly slow. An extremely poor effort that showed the imagination and labour of a weekend show, not of the biggest WUDS show to date.

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