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When Shakespeare wrote his "merry war" between Beatrice and Benedick, intelligent women were in vogue. Men still kept an eye on dowries and external attractions, make no mistake, but female courtly wits had an - all too brief - appeal.

So the Bard created Beatrice. She's at once "pleasant-spirited" and a verbal jouster who unhorses every opponent, except Benedick. They have a past, murky at best, where he played her, she says, with "false dice."

They could be equals - one of the most equal pairings in Shakespeare, in fact. But since each has a need to dominate, they erect walls of words between them. "Too wise to woo peaceably," Benedick admits.

A plot of the townsfolk unites them. Even though they fall in love, jaded audience members may question if their union will ever become democratic.

Much Ado feels cobbled together on short notice (written probably in the interim between the tearing down of The Theatre, board by board in 1598, and the building of the Globe, which opened in 1599). The double plots and comic routines are standard fare.

Dogberry says "comparisons are odorous." Much Ado suffers in comparison to the Old Globe's other festival offerings: The Tempest and Amadeus. Directed by Ron Daniels, the production is almost humorless. The "merry war" is mostly just a war.

Some of the acting's too stiff (Kevin Alan Daniels' Claudio), some's over-the-top (Adrian Sparks' Leonato tatters passions), and Georgia Hatzis' ice cold Beatrice is a puzzle.

Hatzis plays her as if wit's gone out of vogue. She has an appropriately solemn melancholy and more than sufficient anger. The largely "unpleasant" approach, however, stifles one witty remark after another. Benedick says Beatrice speaks "poniards": "poignard," a small dagger. But Hatzis never conveys the mental relish, the joyful touche of the victor.

Jonno Roberts does a fine turn - literally, when he leaps from nay-sayer to ardent lover - as Benedick. As expected, Donald Carrier (Don Pedro) and Charles Janasz (Antonio/Verges) work wonders with supporting characters.

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