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

AFTER actor-manager and company founder Barrie Rutter's farewell in April 2018, now his right-hand man, Conrad Nelson, is moving on from Northern Broadsides too, but the Halifax company has appointed astutely in new artistic director Laurie Sansom.

Nelson says goodbye in a co-production with the New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, but Much Ado About Nothing's combustible mix of antagonistic romance and chaotic comedy is very much a Broadsides show, a Much Ado About Nowt, set in Yorkshire in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

The women are still in Land Girls' cords and jumpers, from Sarah Kameela Impey's Hero to Isobel Middleton's Beatrice, mucking out the yards. The droning sound of aircraft heralds the arrival home of the officers, Matthew Rixon's pipe-smoking Don Pedro, Linford Johnson's young Claudio and Robin Simpson's Benedick.

Nelson, for so long Broadsides' musical director too, lets the actor-musician strengths of his cast flood out in such Forties' delights as The Andrews Sisters' Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree, and if the music extends the running time to nearly three hours, it is worth it.

This is a Much Ado of "love, masked balls and much-needed laughter", where young dreamers Hero and Claudio are giddy with love, but the sparks really fly between Simpson's Benedick and Middleton's Beatrice, he initially reminiscent of Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder, she as waspish as peak-era Jennifer Saunders.

Yet Shakespeare needs to shadow his romantic plotting with a malevolent presence, Don Pedro's vengeful brother Don John (Richard J Fletcher), the Iago of the piece, spreading whispers and rumours, or fake news, if you prefer. “It’s a very good-hearted, good-humoured play but with a darkness to it too," notes Nelson.

Typified by Simpson's outstanding performance that moves between Chaplinesque physical comedy and graver concerns, Nelson's production has the measure of Much Ado being much more than light relief. It has mirth, it has melancholia, it has menace too.

At the same time, Nelson is not afraid to step outside Shakespeare's script, one egotistical bit-part actor complaining "I played Hamlet in Harrogate". You may also note that all the road signs temporarily removed from their rural posts, as they were in the war, bear the names of each town or city on the tour.

There is a winning light touch to the playing by Nelson's terrific cast, where so many performances vie for plaudits, from Middleton to Rixon, David Nellist's Dogberry to Andrew Whitehead's Antonio. Devotees of Mikron Theatre will spot James McLean "moonlighting" in supporting roles here, blasting away on his trombone too. Don't miss.

Charles Hutchinson