MUCH Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s clash of antagonistic romance and chaotic comedy, is re-located to the end of the Second World War for Northern Broadsides’ new tour.

Directed by the Halifax company’s departing artistic director, Conrad Nelson, Broadsides’ tenth co-production with the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, visits York Theatre Royal from Tuesday and Harrogate Theatre the week after.

Six long years of war are finally over in Much Ado as returning soldiers swap the booming battlefield for a landscape of love, masked balls and much-needed laughter. Two young dreamers, Hero and Claudio, fall head over heels, while Benedick and Beatrice resume their combative courtship. Yet, amid faithful friends plotting romance and a vengeful brother planning destruction, can true love conquer all, or will whispers and rumour win out?

Conrad Nelson, meanwhile, is renewing acquaintances with a play he knows well. “Twenty seven years go, I was offered a job with Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company,” he recalls. “At the end of run, I was thrilled to be asked to play Hugh Oatcake in his joyous film version of Much Ado.

“You won’t find the part high on the list of Dramatis Personae; in fact you may not find it all, but I was there on location for eight weeks in the glorious Tuscan sunshine. It was the place to fall in love and a perfect setting for Shakespeare’s romantic comedy.

“Then in 2000 I played Benedick opposite my future wife, Deborah McAndrew, for Northern Broadsides: the last time the company performed the play. The hills of Tuscany gave way to the mill rooms and settings of the industrial north, but I still fell in love again.

“The play’s the thing! I know a little bit more about love now and a little bit more about drama and it’s a privilege to bring this feel-good masterpiece to life again.”

York Press:

Matthew Rixon in Much Ado About Nothing

This time, Broadsides settled on a 1945 setting for Much Ado. “There’s a war, a conflict, going on in the play, and you have to make a choice when to set it. Incredibly, just as we announced it, the Warford Palace Theatre announced an all-female version set in the war too!”

Too much wartime Much Ado? No! Both productions duly went ahead. “I love the sounds of the Forties,” says Conrad, who is in charge of Broadsides’ music too. “T’s a very good-hearted, good-humoured play but with a darkness to it too.

“It’s not belly laughs; it’s more gentle than that and I think people crave that kind of humour. They connect with it, so while Much Ado is funny, there’s a dark turn to it too, and we’ve had a really enthusiastic response to our performances so far.”

Britain in 1945, in the embers of the Second World War, chimes with the tone of the play, suggests Conrad. “There’s that melancholy there, as the soldiers come home,” he says. “My grandad remembers Liverpool being blitzed in the war, but there’s still a romantic nature to recalling those times too.

“We apply a light touch to give the play its new setting, but the names are still Italian and though it’s English men and women who are delivering a play that happens to be set in Messina [a port on the island of Sicily], the Italian location does give it a sense of romance.”

Northern Broadsides in Much Ado About Nothing, York Theatre Royal, May 14 to 18; Harrogate Theatre, May 21 to 25. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or; Harrogate, 01423 502116 or

Charles Hutchinson