“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.
“offers little artistic innovation but provides plenty of food-for-thought”
The continuation of Clapham Fringe Festival sees director, Laura Dorn stage a devised adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. Uncannily appearing amidst a week of climate change revelations, The Enemies surrounds the alarming discovery of a plastic factory employee and researcher, Laura (Laura Vivio), prior to a company presentation to the townspeople. The question of whether the factory should halt its plastic production brings a tense debate between Laura and her fellow employee and sister, El (Eleanor Neylon). Johnny (Jonathan Parr) comically attempts to act as a moderator between the sisters while managing the press.
The play undoubtedly captures the essence of Ibsen as the audience find themselves privy to a conversation on entering. Slightly mismatched is the acting style of both El and Johnny, whose tendencies to overact, particularly in the opening sequence, give the impression of a non-naturalistic piece that perhaps ventures towards commedia dell’arte with stock characters. Nonetheless, the issues of business interest versus public health that are dealt with, demonstrate a strong grasp of the themes of Ibsen’s original work and a promising narrative to develop.
The apparent lack of direction at the beginning of this piece makes for a slow start. Featuring extensive dialogue that is characteristic of Ibsen plays, the long monologues that owe to the dramatic style unfortunately seem under-rehearsed. False starts and stumbles in the delivery of lines from all of the cast prevent the audience from willingly suspending their disbelief as they watch the actors visibly attempt to memorise lines.
A lack of attention to the set design in this piece contributes to its amateur feel. Ironically contrasting the highly detailed sets that Ibsen’s plays are renowned for, a prop, draped with black bin bags hangs from the wall. Some thought into how this could be integrated into the set before it finds use in the climax of the piece would prevent this from standing out unnecessarily. The scenery is equally baffling, consisting of a sofa and table dressed in plastic sheets. Perhaps a very literal interpretation of how an office in a plastic factory may look, this makes it hard to grasp where the action is taking place and blurs the boundary between what is public and private discussion.
The Enemies offers little artistic innovation but provides plenty of food-for-thought. The impactful message that concludes the play draws attention to the well-researched facts and figures it aims to convey. Revisiting Ibsen’s 19th century ponderings on the monopoly of truth, exposing hypocrisy and the voice of the masses, The Enemies is an exciting play to be developed in today’s cultural climate.