MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at the Duke of York’s Theatre
“it is the high exuberance of everyone that comes through the strongest”
The National Youth Theatre REP Company celebrates its 10th anniversary with a joyous romp through Shakespeare’s couples comedy in one of the West End’s most prestigious theatres.
Reinterpreting the text for a youthful cast and audience, in a version not ‘adapted’ according to the programme but ‘remixed’ by Debris Stevenson, the setting becomes Nowhere Island, a reality TV dating show. We get to see the players both on and off camera, on set and behind the scenes and, most engagingly, how the characters are manipulated and controlled by the TV show’s creators. There is, as appears to be the norm nowadays, a lot of additional non-Shakespearean text, including a plasma screen that rolls ‘live audience’ social media comments, but this should not upset the purist. This is a well thought through concept – ninety minutes, no interval – and it works.
Josie Daxter directs a sixteen-strong ensemble around a revolving set (Designer Zoë Hurwitz) which we witness being de-constructed at the end of the show to reveal the bare walls of the space behind. The large number of people on stage sometimes looks cluttered and their movements clumsy, but it is the high exuberance of everyone that comes through the strongest.
With a sassy rendition of Sigh No More Ladies to start things off as a theme tune to the TV show, we hear the players humming Hey Nonny Nonny even when not on camera, an earworm that they can’t shake off. This is an ensemble of good-lookers with pecs and midriffs on show. The girls pose and pout. The boys show off with testosterone-imbued hip-thrusting movements. Subtle, it ain’t. But in contrast, any personal insights into a character’s feelings are admitted privately in front of a screen in the ‘diary room’. Genius.
In Much Ado we have to rely on a strong Beatrice and Benedick and in Isolde Fenton and Daniel Cawley we are in good hands. It is an inauspicious start, however, with the early repartee between them performed in rap but things can only get better and they do. Fenton soon shines, her confident performance leading into an especially passionate display of Beatrice’s ‘O were I a man’ speech whilst Cawley’s cheeky chappie approach to Benedick is endearing and loveable.
Despite the radical re-creation of much of the play, this young cast exhibits a good feeling for the poetry – something that another large house was unable to achieve in a recent production. Hannah Zoé Ankrah as Friar, as well as Fenton and Cawley, are particularly strong in this regard.
Other special mentions go to Jessica Enemokwu as Leonato – the TV show producer – who is in full control of proceedings (ditch the megaphone though); Tomás Azócar-Nevin as Conrade, understated but just right; and Jasmine Ricketts as Don John who, after all is done, returns alone to a bare stage and exhibits a brave postlude breakdown that hints at her character’s mental illness. Finally, for one of the bravest and raunchiest staged love scenes between Borachio (Dalumuzi Moyo) and Margaret (Nathaly Sabino) I have seen – Bravo.
Reviewed on 8th February 2023
by Phillip Money
Photography by Helen Murray
Previously reviewed by Phillip: