Does Beatrice love Benedick?  Does Macron love May?  The entente cordiale is alive and well in award-winning Antic Disposition’s lively production of Much Ado About Nothing.

It’s worthwhile for two reasons – the splendid setting of Gray’s Inn Hall to which you might not ordinarily gain admittance unless you were dating a barrister – and the joie de vivre of the pre-set and Jacques Tati-style pantomime of the French market square they’ve built inside.  Antic Dispo’s ability to persuade recherché venues to let them stage their ribaldry is gobsmackingly impressive.

We are in the place de Messina of a small town, with a surprisingly bon marché bar staffed I think by the producers.  Last week I was in Marmande in the Lot-et-Garonne and it felt remarkably similar.  Combining ‘Monsieur Fawlty’ with René from ‘Allo ‘Allo, Louis Bernard as Dogberry, and especially L’Accordioniste Scott Brooks as Verges lead the capering with beaucoup de panache.

The central romance is somewhat overshadowed by the bombast, and perhaps discoloured by Chiraz Aich’s unusually strident Beatrice – sometimes the whole performance tends toward shouty. For that reason you may care more about the love affair between Hero, sweetly realised by Floriane Anderson, and Claudio – or the machinations to interrupt the wedding orchestrated by Alfie Webster’s splendidly vile Don John.

There have been sensible cuts – sometimes actors getting flicked on the backside with a tea towel is funnier than the rather convoluted jokes Shakespeare wrote on a bad day in 1593.

Antic Disposition is undoubtedly a clever and resourceful company close to the top of its game, but this Much Ado is not quite as tasty a tarte fine as their movingly beautiful Henry V which is about to embark on a fresh tour.

It’s probably Shakespeare’s fault.

 

Until September 1