REVIEW: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Selfridges’ reFASHIONed Theatre) ★★★★
As you may or may not know, Sir William Shakespeare fancied himself a bit of a comedian, occasionally taking a break amongst his usual feats of tragedy and historical dramas to create ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, written in (it is believed) about 1598-1599. The title of the play gives clues to the plot, which entails a number of goings-on at court in the house of a wealthy family in which the Prince of Aragon is visiting. Loosely summarised, the characters of Beatrice and Benedick are tricked into realising (and then professing) their love for one another through various means, and an innocent young woman named Hero is unjustly accused of being unfaithful to her fiancé Claudio ahead of their wedding day – and a lot of fuss in between.
Treachery and gossip litter this plot, but a comedy it is nonetheless, and there was no shortage of laughs in this modernisation of ‘Much Ado’. Indeed, this particular Shakespearean piece is timeless in its ability to make audiences of all ages and backgrounds laugh. With a highly energetic cast of expressive actors, this production succeeded in drawing the audience in by executing the comedic cues with great accuracy. Whether it be Beatrice hiding at the back of the stage posed awkwardly as a statue, or Benedick laying face-down on the ground hoping no one would spot him (!), this production truly grasped all opportunities to have fun with the script and make the audience tremor with laughter. A personal favourite was the scene in which Hero runs onto the stage clutching her wedding dress, with a prolonged, high-pitched squeal, which was nothing short of adorable. In fact, the cast did a great job of imploring the audience to every character, making them seem likeable and relatable, in all of their flaws.
Nowadays it could be argued that Shakespearean language is getting further removed from our modern linguistic understanding, so it becomes a greater challenge for actors to successfully communicate his scripts to an audience. It is a good thing, therefore, that The Faction are all aware of this challenge, as each actor performed their lines with excellent diction, making it easier for the audience to process the storyline. Projection is paramount in a 360-degree theatre, and this was achieved respectably.
This take on ‘Much Ado’ was refreshingly experimental in several ways; for instance, I particularly liked their choice to make the character of Leonarto female instead of male, and this created an influential matriarchal figure popular with the audience. Whilst the various techniques employed to modernise the piece were mostly triumphant, the insertion of television screens above the stage (acting as the ‘Messina news channel’ and including hashtags) felt at times a little disjointed. Whilst I will always applaud experimental methods of modernising Shakespeare, it is a difficult feat to get right, and perhaps it was the audio that made the TV interjections feel a little bit odd against the otherwise faithful presentation of the script. However, I enjoyed the contemporary dance scenes with its dramatic movements and flamboyant staging, so ultimately the stylistic changes were very well received.
Particularly impressive was the company’s innovative use of space and height, both on and off stage. Benedick sat on the stairs in the audience hiding behind his paper, actors walked inches away from the front-row of the audience, and (rather amusingly) characters were crawling face-first along the perimeter of the stage. Every inch of space within the theatre was utilised, therefore effectively immersing the audience in the action (once again, making Shakespeare ‘accessible’). The theatre itself was beautifully designed and lit well, so overall a great stomping-ground for such an exciting interpretation of the play.
Thoroughly entertaining and boasting a cast of highly skilled actors – The Faction certainly did Shakespeare justice.
Reviewed by Laura Evans
Photo: Simon Annand