A co-production between 1623 Theatre, Purple Theatre and the Century Theatre in Coalville, this modern verse adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing by Ranjit Bolt has a diverse cast in which race, gender identity or disablity does not make any impact on casting.
The set is framed by brick walls daubed with graffiti, placing this into a contemporary setting. Banners of celebration are stretched across the stage, chairs and tables litter the scene which is the place where two love affairs are explored in Shakespeare’s problematic comedy.
Beatrice and Benedick profess to have left love aside from their lives, but we all know they belong together. They are teased and taunted into believing each feels the same. Claudio, who sees love as pure, loves Hero passionately but turns on her just as violently when he is led to believe he has been betrayed.
Bolt’s modern text is not his first brush with the Bard: in 2006 he was behind Merry Wives The Musical at the RSC. But moving a plot such as Much Ado into the modern world has its pitfalls as you may recall from the 2005 television adaptation in Shakespeare Retold. Hero’s chastity, whether real or not, would hardly matter to any 21st century young man; certainly not enough to make her enter to an elaborate ruse to win him back. Any woman being publicly castigated this way would be better off finding an online consensus against him on Reddit.
Deaf actress Emily Howlett is a rather sweet Beatrice, more akin to Twelfth Night‘s Viola than The Taming of the Shrew‘s Katherine. She does not have the feel of a woman who pushes men away, but rather one who might welcome the attention. As Benedick, Lewis Brown is sure of himself but then becomes reticent when true love knocks on his door. Tamika Steadman is an effective Hero, full of fight under accusation, while Jamie Brown’s Claudio is assured in his navigation of an often thankless role.
There are moments of amusement in this Much Ado, notably from the officious Dogberry (Mica Loveridge) and Norma Dixit’s Leonata (although the latter is truly vicious towards daughter Hero in her time of need). But ultimately Bolt’s reinterpretation is more about relationships as they pan out than either comedy or the rivalry between Don John (Dylan Bull) and Don Pedro (Sam Beckett Jr.).
Fully signed in BSL throughout, this production (directed by Ben Spiller) also plays with signing within Howlett’s performance; her gestures standing for girl talk whispers and first date flirting. The gist can be picked up, as it was in the RSC’s As You Like It featuring Charlotte Arrowsmith. Language can often be universal if the will to engage is there, especially if you know the part well.
This Much Ado is lively and celebratory: the final burst of joy in music is perhaps the most indicative of the intention behind the production. I enjoyed it a lot.
Much Ado About Nothing was at the Century Theatre in Coalville on the 6-7 May 2022. I watched the livestream version, which is now available here.
Links: 1623 Theatre (“marginalised people working for social justice with you and Shakespeare”), and Purple Theatre (“elebrate non binary values in race and gender through performance and art”).
Image credit: Darren Staples