‘Much Ado About Nothing’ review – Deaf and disabled actors perform rom-com with plenty of playfulness

★★★ 1/2

Ramps on the Moon’s take on William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is warm, cheerful and expressive. A collective of Deaf and disabled actors, the three-hour production combines British Sign Language (BSL), audio description, creative captions and colourful clothing to tell the story of manipulative matchmaking in a lively fashion.

The initial difficulty is that we spend around 10 tedious minutes watching a conversation take place behind the closed glass doors of a wooden cabin in the woods before the action begins (it’s unclear if this was down to the ushers sorting something or an intentional decision of the production), and each character gives an audio description of themselves and explains their communication preferences.

It’s completely necessary, but the flurry of character detail is overwhelming. The information contained in the play, we’re told, will be received by everyone (even if it’s at different times), yet some of the more off-beat, comical moments are left unsigned or ‘uncaptioned’.

There is a benefit to Much Ado About Nothing in that there are two central plots to follow if you can’t quite keep up with it all. Beatrice (played with a sharp Northern sass by Daneka Etchells) and Benedick (acted with enjoyable smugness from Guy Rhys) appear to hate each other, as others try to push them closer together, while Don Joanna (Fatima Niemogha) leads a plan to break up Claudio (Taku Mutero) and Hero (Claire Wetherall). The assortment of characters is vivid, dynamic and wide-ranging, almost in a way in which there is someone for everyone.

That is not to say that some roles are more grating than others. Margaret (Laura Golden), who signs and voices over a lot of the dialogue, does so with high-pitched excitement and intensity, demonstrating little difference in emotion beyond giggly squealing. Don Pedro (Dan Parr) adopts an amusing and exaggerated posh accent, and Borachio (Ben Wilson) is actually blind drunk. Meanwhile in a hot, bright-coloured outfit, Verges (Lee Farrell) embraces a bubbly, camp demeanour which is fine and casual.

Essentially, Ramps on the Moon’s Much Ado About Nothing indulgences in the exuberant and the silly. There’s cowboy dances, rubber ducks and knaves being attacked with eucalyptus. Inevitably, there will be missteps with such an approach – even in a comedy where the ridiculous is encouraged – but it’s undeniably enjoyable fun.

Much Ado About Nothing is now playing at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 5 November. It will then conclude its UK tour at the Salisbury Playhouse, playing there from 8-12 November.

Every performance includes captioning, plus integrated audio description and British Sign Language (BSL) translation.

Production Images: Johan Persson.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and while and while I know Amy Helena in a personal capacity, all opinions stated above are honest and my own.

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