REVIEW RATING: ***
It is a neat gimmick: take the conventions of 16th-century theatre, in which female roles are played by men, and turn it on its head.
Thus the new production of Much Ado About Nothing, at Shakespeare's Globe in London, is performed by an entire cast of women. Dressed in doublet and britches a female Benedick woos a recalcitrant Beatrice. A grave, grey-bearded yet high-voiced Leonato presides over the marriage of his daughter, Hero.
The ploy works surprisingly well. The deep voice that Josie Lawrence assumes as Benedick grates at first but matches well the dense obstinacy of the character. And Ann Ogbomo, as Claudio, exudes the innocence of a sweet-faced, slightly effete youth.
There are some clever directorial touches adding humanity and warmth. When Beatrice overhears that Benedick loves her, she reacts with speechless bemusement. And when she and Benedick meet as lovers, she clasps his blown kiss to her breast.
Other characters also provide entertainment. Leonato, Penelope Beaumont, imitates Beatrice with a mincing parody which offers insight into the men's view of women and a clever counterpoint to the subtle, cross-gender playing of the actors.
But the women's portrayal of male characters is frequently so convincing that one is left wondering what the point of the whole exercise is. The costumes worn by the male characters disguise the actors' femininity so successfully that their gender becomes irrelevant. Meanwhile, a series of diverse and lively female characters dominate the stage in their own right.
In particular Yolanda Vazquez as Beatrice brings such spark and verve to the role that her exchanges with Benedick prove to be the evening's highlight.
Much Ado About Nothing is on until September 25. Box office: 020 7401 9919 Teacher 22