benedick and Beatrice

Guy Rhys as Benedick and Daneka Etchells as Beatrice. Pictures: Johan Persson

Much Ado About Nothing

Birmingham Rep


If Shakespeare were not complex enough for some, Sheffield Theatres and Ramps on the Moon take the bards Much Ado about Nothing to new heights, both with their encompassing, inclusive and diverse communication skills and in developing unique ways to deliver their theatre to a diverse audience.

Ramps on the Moon is a group of venues around the UK that creates space for deaf, neurodiverse, disabled and non-disabled performers and creatives to work together.

With a cast chosen with a wide range of disabilities, using sign language, projected surtitles and other technical means  they managed to reinterpret this complex multi-layered tale of love and cunning deceit, in a way in which no other company is capable.

The production is not without its issues though. The necessity of these various communication platforms can at times become overwhelming and have a negative impact, for instance when an actor delivers the wrong line and the surtitles says something different.

None of this is a direct criticism though of the immense task that Director Robert Hastie has faced in problem solving this unique production. The many different approaches to the actor’s delivery warranted an opening to the audience, of exactly who is doing what and why before entering into the play. Even then though it takes time to appreciate how each character works and this is something of a process of continuing discovery for the viewer.

The varied communication styles can at times be confusing and found myself more than I often needed to, having to read the captions rather than wanting to watch the performances. Much of the first half is a settling into these new ways of communication and I felt more accomplished at following the performance by the second half.

Dan Parr as Don Pedro felt at times to be leading the cast confidently through some difficult passages but delivered his role with a commanding assurance. Guy Rhys and Daneka Etchells as the tricked pairing of Benedick and Beatrice were superb in the roles.

 Fatima Niemogha plays Donna Joanna and here the choice at times to either speak or use British Sign Language with another actor speaking the lines added a sense of conniving duplicity the character.


Fatima Niemogha as Donna Joanna

Gerard McDermott and Karina Jones lent a more traditional Shakespeare’s weight and persona to the play as Hero’s parents. There was music and dancing with Kit Kenneth as Balthasar in fine voice but the inclusion of some country and western was nothing short of bizarre.  Leo Long and Amy Helena as Oatcake and Seacole performed a fine double act and added some strong visual signing. Claire Wetheralls role as Hero was somewhat diluted though in that her signed only performance lost some its personal impact.

Whilst the original comedy is present in the text the additional asides and comments and gestures seem to generate the biggest laughs. No more so than with the double-act of Caroline Parker as constable Dogberry and Verges played by Lee Farrell who dials campness up to an uncomfortable eleven.


Caroline Parker as Dogberry and Lee Farrell as Verges

Peter Mackintosh’s costume and set design is simple but with the latter possibly planned to accommodate the cast and is limited to certain parameters with minimal lighting changes to the open stage space.

With a production such as this, it is hard to appreciate honestly how the varied levels of communication impact on a diversely appreciative audience. It is quite possible and hopefully much more engaging for those with disabilities to appreciate them and not feel they are a distraction.

It’s a commendable and skilful interpretation of the play, with the talent of actors who are multidisciplined in this way and a production team who are skilled in weaving them into a theatre production. It can only be a matter of time though before someone harnesses the full power of their abilities in a way that understands its advantages and limitations and writes something unique for them to fully embrace their diversity rather than problem solve a traditional work.   

Jeff Grant


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