Much Ado About Nothing, Crucible, Sheffield

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The Independent Culture

The regime kicks off, however, with a slightly disappointing production of Much Ado About Nothing, set in the late 19th century, by the associate director, Josie Rourke. It's enjoyable, well cast and beautifully designed by Giles Cadle, who locates proceedings in a Mediterranean courtyard of russet terracotta tiles, bathed in mellow light.

With demob-happy soldiers engaged in idle games and civilians and uniformed visitors posing together for a photograph, it creates a detailed textured sense of an off-duty world that must be careful not to lose the peace. But the darker undercurrents of this play - the ugly, misogynistic effects of military male-bonding - are perhaps given less than their full due.

Claire Price and West himself bring a fine degree of psychological understanding to Beatrice and Benedick, the reluctant lovers. Price, fiery-spirited, gives the heroine's cutting wit an almost manic edge, as though she's trying to conceal the emotional injuries sustained in her past encounter with Benedick.

West touchingly shows us a man too sensitive for all-male society, though formed by it. He's particularly funny in the way he clings for protection to his old, soldierly style, even when liberated by love. His excuse for romantic capitulation - "The world must be peopled" - is uttered in the earnest tones of a general planning a risky invasion. The eavesdropping scenes - with Benedick left stranded when a boy comes to collect the wheelbarrow he's hiding behind - are staged with humour and insight. The couple's human growth, through suffering, is perceptively traced.

There are miscalculations, though, such as turning Dogberry, Verges and the watch into a group of hymn-singing women who march round with raised umbrellas like some cross between the WI and a moral rearmament outfit. Presenting women in positions of even bungled civic power reduces the force of Beatrice's frustration at male-dominated society.

Recent stagings have tried to complicate our view of the play's homosocial milieu. Peter Hall's production at Bath equipped Don Pedro with a gay infatuation for the callow Claudio and a vested interest in interfering in his romantic affairs and wanting them to fail. Rourke has little to say on this, more simply despatching the men to the happy ending they do not deserve.

To 5 November (0114-249 6000)