This slightly mind-boggling production leaves you in no doubt that Much Ado About Nothing is full of wonderful things, yet it also left me wondering whether it's really a very satisfactory play.
Director Marianne Elliot, making her RSC debut, has opted to locate it in 1950s Cuba, so cue straight away a great band, some spectacular Latin festivities and seriously silly dancing. In fact, the first half is one of those sublime feelgood shows that we are lucky enough to get close to from time to time in the Swan, my only marginal reservation being that it maybe tries just a little too hard for laughs.
But then Shakespeare switches to much darker territory as a young woman is rejected at the altar. The bridegroom has been deceived into believing her unfaithful by a villainous character whose only purpose in the play is to upset the apple cart, and she appears to die of grief on the spot.
Hero's disaster is played for real by Elliot and her excellent cast, and has real power. Its collision with the comic plot about the love-hate relationship of Beatrice and Benedick creates a kind of between-comedy-and-tragedy vertigo, hinged on Beatrice's shocking line: "Kill Claudio".
The trouble then is that the subsequent reconciliation does not convince, and Hero's tormenters never get their due come-uppance. So the festivities with which the play ends have a hollow ring compared to the earlier ones - as the prince, Don Pedro, seems to recognise as he detaches himself in the final moments.
Still there is a lot to admire, beginning with Tamsin Greig's (above) cool and angular Beatrice whose deadpan wit shades into surrealism as she delivers Benedick's summons to dinner by megaphone at a few inches' range. Joseph Millson presents a Benedick of two halves, the cocky bearded soldier giving way to attractive venerability as a clean-shaven, baggy-trousered David Byrne lookalike.
There are strong performances too from Patrick Robinson as Don Pedro, Jonny Weir as his inexplicably evil illegitimate brother (but you feel a full exposition of this character requires another play) and, in particular, Nicholas Day as Hero's father Leonato, magnificent as he belatedly rounds on his daughter's tormenters.
Bette Bourne's camp version of Dogberry, the self-important malapropist constable, is a curiosity but not without its own charm.
Olly Fox's music is a real highlight and Yvette Rochester-Duncan delivers an exceptional Sigh No More, Ladies in Caribbean style. It's also a treat to hear David Carroll, once of the Steve Gibbons Band, getting to play so much guitar.
* Running time: Three hours, ten minutes. In repertory until October 12.
Terry Grimley ..SUPL: