This production puts the play into a (more or less) modern setting, but does so to good purpose. The weary soldiers returning home after a successful battle are in the uniforms of the second world war, and the women waiting to greet them are are likewise dressed for the 1940s. There's a very clear parallel drawn between Shakespeare's original setting, and this more recent demobbing. It also supports the gender-bending of some of the roles. Leonato is now Leonata, the Governor who has stayed at home during the war to manage the home front. Likewise the constables, who are women, and air raid wardens. The story works very well in the post-WWII setting.
The bit that was traditional was the stage setting, in the round and with very little scenery. This is a function of the theatre's design, a theatre in the round set on the main floor of the old Exchange building. The theatre company does some remarkable adaptations to suit playscripts to its unusual space, but this time out they were presenting a play originally written for that context.
And they presented it very well. The audience was rocking with laughter at the funny bits, and rapt at the dramatic bits. And occasionally becoming part of the scenery... It's always slightly dangerous sitting on the edge of the seating area at the Exchange, but this time most of the two front rows got to find out why. They were used first by Benedick and then by Beatrice as cover to eavesdrop on conversations. Since I was sitting on the aisle by one of the doorways I was slightly nervous, but fortunately someone else got handed a constable's tea mug.
All in all, a wonderful evening. With an excellent cast and direction, this was well worth seeing.
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