Private Lives/ Much Ado About Nothing, Theatre Royal, Bath

To bicker or not to bicker? Oh, go on!
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The Independent Culture

Scacchi has a well-worn sexiness and glamour that suits Amanda. But you can see the wheels going round and she wears a grin permanently plastered over her face: Elyot's desire to slap her in the chops seems all too reasonable. Michael Siberry's grey-haired Elyot is growly, disillusioned and getting on a bit. When he says "don't quibble, Sybil" to his new spouse he sounds like her dad. But it's a very funny, effortless performance with a relish for malicious abuse which warms the cockles.

Of the two bores, Amanda's new hubbie Victor is expertly played by Charles Edwards who does a lovely line in discreet facial twitches. He ends up with Olivia Darnley's super-shrill Sybil - a budding relationship which explodes in the concluding spat.

The comedy has lost none of its freshness and Thea Sharrock's production is lively and, at best, has the citrus zing of a good cocktail. Period glamour is conjured by Peter Mumford's elegant retro-Thirties balconies with a futurist interior for the Paris flat. One niggle is that the punches are pulled in the fights. Fight directors these days have presumably all been nobbled by Health and Safety.

Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Peter Hall, has something in common with Coward's hymn to marital mayhem. But this story of Mediterranean intrigue and romance isn't done any favours by being set in the Jane Austen era. The chaps are all dressed like Lord Nelson and the women like Bo Peep. Even in this most unfetching get-up the delightful Janie Dee, as the clever clogs Beatrice, manages to melt the heart of confirmed bachelor Benedick - a romance which the entire court has engineered.

Aden Gillett's army officer Benedick is starchy and benign. His slow-burn romance with Beatrice - a molehill turning into a "mountain of affection" - is set against the melodrama of Claudio (Dan Stevens) and Hero (Olivia Darnley), the latter falsely accused at the altar. But there's no real sense of menace in the Don John baddie sub-plot to add stringency to this sentimental, verbose comedy. The big cheese Leonato is played by the always audible Philip Voss, and Sam Kelly as the buffoon constable Dogberry manages (just) not to outstay his welcome.

These two curiously related and enjoyable comedies - full of bickering romance and stubbed toes - provide a nothing if not uncivilised start to the new season. Engaged couples for whom life is still a bowl of cherries should probably avoid them both. Shaw's You Never Can Tell and Beckett's Waiting for Godot join the repertoire in August.

To 6 August, 01225 448844