Pros: Perfectly spoken verse and a fantastic cast.
Cons: Shakespeare’s ‘contemporary makeover’ is only skin-deep and doesn’t add much beyond the snazzy outfits.
I was vaguely regretting my choice to sign up for this show as soon as I entered Selfridges and came face to face with the wall of beautiful people and £60 hand-origami-ed tea bags that stood between the ‘pop up’ theatre space on the lower ground floor and my manifestly uncool self. Fortunately, I did not turn around and flee back into the safe arms of H&M. Because if I had, I would’ve missed this very shiny but entertaining production of a Shakespeare classic by emerging theatre company The Faction.
Much Ado About Nothing is a story about two couples: sweet young things Hero and Claudio are absolutely head over heels for each other, while Beatrice and Benedick are both sworn bachelors who also happen to hate each other’s guts. Things go topsy-turvy, however, when Beatrice and Benedick’s friends plot to bring the two unwilling lovers together, while Claudio and Hero are driven apart by outside interference.
Much Ado is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, and not without reason: it’s witty, subtle, reasonably pacey, and is probably the only comedy that does not feature two sets of identical twins that mistakenly got mixed up at birth. In fact, I’d venture to say that short of miscasting the two leads, it’s pretty much impossible to screw up. It’s a good thing, then, that The Faction have found a stellar pair in Alison O’Donnell and Daniel Boyd. Boyd’s Benedick is a proper posho, although in an affable, Jack Whitehall, kind of way; just the right mix of charming and annoying. O’Donnell gives Beatrice a depth that other productions often shy away from. The hints of sadness that creep out from behind her cheerful exterior give the final scenes more power and credibility. The rest of the cast are equally excellent, although Caroline Langrishe as Leonata and Jude Owusu as Don Pedro stand out.
Even though the running time is closer to two hours rather than the promised hour and a half, this is still a pleasantly speedy production. Some of the scenes could’ve been a bit tighter still, and although having the chance to get Simon Callow and Meera Syal in onscreen cameos is understandably too good to pass up, the ‘dialogue’ between the on stage actors and the screen is a bit clunky. The tightness of the production is also reflected in the design: a catwalk, two striking LED columns and three screens is all we get. Oh, and a cast dressed in glittery tops, purple socks and blue lipstick. It really is all very slick, but perhaps not very exciting; I was hoping Shakespeare would be given a bit more than a simple outward makeover. Especially in a space called The reFASHIONed Theatre, it feels like a missed opportunity.
Underneath the thin veneer of glitz and glitter, this is just plain, old-fashioned Will. No, it’s not the most daring production of Much Ado you’ll see any time soon. But it is a good production nevertheless, with pretty much perfectly spoken verse and engaging performances from a cast who know how to fill a space with their presence. Certainly worth braving the cool tea bags for.
Author: William Shakespeare
Directors: Mark Leipacher and Rachel Valentine Smith
Producer: The Faction
Booking Link: http://www.selfridges.com/US/en/content/article/refashioned-theatre/
Booking Until: 24 September 2016