Much ado about nothing. Royal Lyceum Theatre. Edinburgh until November 22.
In the Lyceum Theatre Company's excellent study pack for Much Ado About Nothing, comic actress and TV star Elaine C Smith confesses to having been "bored rigid" by Shakespeare at school, declaring she "didn't understand what all the fuss was about".
She must surely have changed her mind by now, as she turns in an excellent performance as Beatrice in this production, which has "fun" stamped all over it. Under Kenny Ireland's direction, both she and Forbes Masson (as Beatrice's verbal sparring partner and would-be lover Benedick) show comic timing to perfection. Colour, punch and vigour are the hallmarks of this production, which is beautifully designed by Russell Craig, boasts music by Ricky Ross and calls upon the comic talents of actors of the calibre of Jonathan Watson, Robert Paterson and Eric Barlow.
This is the kind of production which might well serve as a remedy to those "bored rigid" by old-fashioned school Shakespeare or make a stimulating introduction to live Shakespeare for those whose knowledge is confined to reading texts from dog-eared editions. It's perfectly fashioned for school groups.
This is perhaps all the more of a compliment, given that Much Ado is not the Bard at his best. It takes some swallowing, for example, that Claudio should retain his romantic status as Hero's lover after he has apparently caused her death (by being such a dim-witted dupe) and that she should be willing to return his affections after she has been publicly shamed and spurned by him. As role models for contemporary youth, the former is not so much a male chauvinist pig as a male chauvinist prig and the latter a bit of a prize bimbo willing to feign even death to get her man. This could lead to some interesting class discussion.
School parties are invited to attend teach-ins on November 18 and 19 (4.40-6.00pm), which are free of charge if they are coming to see the show. Study packs covering language, character, plot, themes, design and "problems for a modern audience" are available from the Lyceum's education development officer, Steven Small (tel: 0131 229 7404)