The Glasgow University Shakespeare Society is a fledgling society, and having done one night of Shakespearean monologues and Love’s Labour’s Lost, Much Ado About Murder is the first piece of new writing they have produced. It is advertised as a “dark, gory comedy with a Shakespearean twist” and for the most part this is accomplished, with albeit varying levels of success.
The action begins with a single actor on stage, giving a laboured performance of a speech from Julius Caesar. This is followed by a smattering of applause from an uncomfortable audience, and someone in the front row exclaiming that it was terrible. Four actors stand from the audience and join each other on stage, where they discuss how dreadful the monologue was. These are the four critics whose poor reviews destroy the actor, Burgundy’s (Michael Cartledge), career. The play follows Burgundy’s plot for revenge: he murders the critics using characters’ deaths from Shakespeare’s plays.
The premise is solid and provides a simple, though unimaginative formula. Most of the jokes are predictable and characters rely on tropes rather than nuance, which means that certain actors are prone to overacting. Indeed, this kind of self-interest is exhibited throughout the show, as scenes that involve several actors generally have a weak pace and jokes frequently fall flat. However, Bryn Jones and Catherine Hampton are the exception to this, playing a pervert and a drunk with a verve that is entertaining throughout.
The show’s main downfall, however, is its inability to find a balance between being dark and being a comedy. Blood and gore alternate between being used as a punchline and being used in an attempt to genuinely shock, and the latter rarely works. This inconsistency allows action to drag with melodrama that feels unnecessary. As a result, Jaimie McGuire as the cynical detective comes as a welcome contrast, appearing to be the only character able to discern the ridiculous and responding with suitably dry wit.
Despite all of this, Much Ado About Murder is an innocuous and entertaining experience, coupled with some chuckles and good stabbings. It suggests that the Shakespeare Society have something to offer to the student theatre scene, even if they’re not there just yet.