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Giddy thing

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

At the end of Much Ado About Nothing, Benedick declares that "Man is a giddy thing." His words aptly sum up this disorienting, expectation-defying production. However well you know the play, you can never be sure what will happen next.

The huge picture frame that surrounds the stage presents a surreal Messina. Tables and mirrors move of their own volition. A huge apple tree has erupted, splinteringly, through the wooden floor. A mysterious small boy haunts the action. Brick walls recede in dizzying perspective to a small door behind which is only another brick wall.

Director Michael Boyd has created a schizophrenic world. His gorgeously costumed cast, in full Elizabethan dress, inhabit a puzzling, melancholy world that sometimes lurches into nightmare in which a patently psychopathic Don John speaks Dogberry's words. Comedy becomes a very serious matter, as every character seems preoccupied with sombre thoughts. There's little prospect that love will last.

Such bleak surrealism is often baffling, and some effects in the first half are tedious cliches (Barachio urinating against a wall). But this very postmodern production un-doubtedly grows in power, and the ending's dirge-like dance and Close Encounters final image make compelling theatre.

This is Much Ado About Something, but I'm still unsure as to what that something might be.

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