The most recognisably modern of Shakespeare’s comedies, Much Ado About Nothing’s warring would-be couples who turn out to love each other really is a romcom for all our times. And Maria Aberg’s first production for the Royal Exchange even has a Hugh Grant-esque Benedick in Paul Ready: raffish, slightly bumbling and not afraid to throw his hands up in the air and exclaim “whatever” when he completely mangles one of his lines.
Aberg does tease out the dark heart of the text – there is a powerful sung scene when Claudio (played carefully by Gerard Kearns) realises the full extent of his error in jilting Hero. But it’s Sandy Foster’s constable Dogberry, hilariously channelling Dad’s Army (if it was set in Birmingham) and the joyful masquerade ball section, played with outsized heads fixed in a rictus grin, which really stick in the memory.
This jiving, post-Second World War party, neatly choreographed by Ayse Tashkiran, is perfect for the round. That it switches from a 1940s soundtrack to characters singing Crazy In Love by Beyonce reveals that Aberg isn’t too fussed about imposing a strict setting on her Much Ado, and in the end that is this production’s strength. It both revels in joy and wallows in despair.