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The Independent Culture
Kenneth Branagh's A Romp in the Tuscan Hills, aka Much Ado About Nothing, was like a Heal's catalogue: all earthenware, natural fabrics and garden furniture. It was Shakespeare as Timotei commercial. Lots of running water, golden skin, white clothes, appealing innocence - and that was just Robert Sean Leonard's puppyish Claudio. The sun, paradoxically, was the star of the film, bathing everybody in afterglow before even the first act of consummation.

James Menzies-Kitchin's production won't be able to match the dust-kicking entrance of the men returning home on horseback, (young guns go for it), but despite that he has interesting ideas, replacing Chiantishire countryside with striking costumes from an Indian fabric shop in Leamington Spa.

Fiona Shaw will play Richard II at the National later this year, but otherwise Deborah Warner will be casting the play traditionally. At the Southwark Playhouse, whose successes include the recent all-male The Rivals, it comes as a refreshing change to find a director creating women's roles, particularly when in Shakespeare (as everywhere else) they are in very short supply. There are just four women in a cast of 18, but this production of Much Ado About Nothing (above) has 11 women's roles. With the men away at war, women have been forced to take on men's jobs, so Dogberry and the watch are played by women. With luck, this will solve all manner of problems and remind audiences that these scenes are genuinely funny: something Branagh signally failed to do.

`Much Ado About Nothing' previews at the Southwark Playhouse on 4 Apr and opens on 6 Apr (071-620 3494)

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