“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.
“plays actively on the comic element with quick-witted interaction and lively, farcical staging”
Bursting with ideas and inspiration, Exploding Whale’s retailored model of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed comedy reveals a wealth of new talent. Hidden beneath Katzenjammers’ Bierkeller, Katzpace is an interestingly-located, if somewhat incommodious studio space and home to this vibrant young theatre company.
The modern corporate setting of this adaptation is an excellent choice as a venue for social intrigues as well as a vehicle for the shifting of traditional gender roles. In this version, Don Juan is a female executive and several minor characters have become women in the workplace. Director, Ellie Morris, creates beautifully contrasting moods while the story unfolds. As they arrive for work, each personality is immediately established and the spirited pace allows for an atmosphere of bustling office banter. However, it is never a mistake to take time over establishing complicated backstories and plots; even for those familiar with the play, the energy of the opening rushes through the initial set up as we learn the latest line-up. The first half plays actively on the comic element with quick-witted interaction and lively, farcical staging, though sometimes the quality becomes patchy and we lose the tension and conviction of the characters. In the second, the drama comes together and we experience an unusually powerful sense of tragic relief, sobering the mood for a dose of reality.
In this redesigned cast, the two central couples find a perfect blend of tone and attitude which place them in the present day. The nonchalant pretence of Talia Pick’s Beatrice complements Gregory Birks’ carefree, comic front as Benedick, breaking eventually in a touchingly affectionate scene. Ava Pickett as Hero and in particular, Julian Bailey-Jones as Claudio, grow with passion from starry-eyed young lovers, experiencing the powerful feelings of betrayal, anger and grief. Octavia Gilmore portrays a manipulating Don Juan and James Irving as Hero’s father, Leonato, asserts himself in the second half. There is an enjoyably quirky Dogberry from Charlotte Vassell, but many of the secondary roles are changed or omitted and the distinction and balance between their updated versions is not always clear.
A room below a beer cellar is certainly a change from one above a pub but it has its practical drawbacks. Visibility is sometimes obscured by a couple of pillars and made uncomfortable by the glaring, low spot lights. Technical aspects aside, Exploding Whale’s production captures the fundamental essence of these two couples, exploring the timelessness of their relationships as well as putting more women on the stage. The clever, contemporary setting and details, dynamic direction and wonderful acting make this a ‘Much Ado’ which spans our emotions and entertains at the same time.