Much Ado About Not(h)ing
Reviewed – 20th June 2019
“on paper this updating is fascinating and makes utter sense, but poor exposition and some wishy-washy playing has a distancing effect”
The inspiration for Kelly Wilson’s 21st century vision for Much Ado is her discovery of ‘noting’, the Elizabethans’ version of messaging apps. The term relates not only to the exchange of notes but also the rumours and confusions that follow, explaining why they make such effective devices in Shakespeare’s comedies. The production can be followed on Facebook simultaneously, allowing the audience to scroll through and comment on developments in real time, and much of the on-stage interactions and revelations are conducted through smartphones.
Other innovations include the use of projections to set the scene, display Skype calls, Facebook posts and the sharing of video footage between the characters, all of which enliven as well as modernise. The action and some of the language is bumped to the modern era too, with characters Pedro, Benedick and Claudio returning from Afghanistan to let off steam, indulge their need for horse-play and falling in love. Ruthless editing means that Dogberry is written out altogether and the original Don John character is streamlined into Joan Don, a mean-spirited hacker with fewer lines and less motivation.
So far, though, so good. However, what promises to be an energetically re-imagined, intellectually ingenious and technically multidimensional version of this enjoyable classic sags in some unexpected places. Six original songs (Alex Loveless, Scott Howland) are signalled in the programmes, but their Disneyesque reality cheapens rather than heightens the play’s sweeping emotions, not helped by the patchy singing skills available.
The Cockpit’s generous stage-area becomes a handicap rather than a canvas for the choreography (Darren Royston) and the generally underpowered performances couldn’t quite live up to the production’s brilliant ambition.
Fortunately, the wittily-written love match between Benedick and Beatrice is distinctively delivered by Gunnar DeYoung and Tamsin Lynes. Joanna Clarke stands out for her steely Joan Nicola Don, despite the slighter role. But while there are many other details and talents to impress, it’s telling that most were non-acting. The digital design by Zsara Jaeger is beautifully observed, detailed and plausible, projections are well deployed by Liz Leeman and the overall effect is smart and coherent.
So, on paper this updating is fascinating and makes utter sense, but poor exposition and some wishy-washy playing has a distancing effect. Moral: too much social media spoils the appreciation of what’s in front of you.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Laura Dorn
Much Ado About Not(h)ing
Cockpit Theatre until 22nd June
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: