IT HAD to happen, and here it is. In the age when civil partnership for gay couples is maturing into same-sex marriage, here’s a version of Shakespeare’s great marriage comedy that transforms the witty heroine, Beatrice, into a smart bloke called Bertram, and celebrates his gay romance with the battled-scarred hero Benedick, alongside the boy-girl wooing of the play’s second couple, Hero and Claudio.
There are elements of culture-shock and sheer dissonance about Gordon Barr’s merry production – the sight of a patriarch in mediaeval garb cheerfully seeking a husband for his gay nephew, or the moment when young Bertram confesses to having been Hero’s innocent “bedfellow” – but what is mainly surprising is how little the play is disturbed by this radical shift in its main relationship.
James Ronan is a superb and witty Benedick, although Robert Elkin’s super-camp Bertram is perhaps a shade too frantic for romance. Lauren Hurwood is magnificent as the wronged and slandered Hero, and Ben Clifford gives a thoughtful performance as the villain Don John.
The production suffers a little from being trapped on the small wooden stage – the eavesdropping scenes cry out to be played in a real garden. Yet the strength-in-depth of the acting is impressive, with Louise McCarthy’s memorable double performance as the sexy serving-woman, Margaret, and the constable, Dogberry.
And when we reach the play’s glorious finale – with Hero restored to life and love, and Benedick and Bertram at last admitting their mutual passion – the effect is like a gorgeous double wedding of a gay couple and a straight one; something that may well happen for real here before too long.
Rating: * * * *