Much Ado About Nothing
Katzpace Studio Theatre
Reviewed – 15th October 2018
“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.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Much Ado About Nothing
Katzpace Studio Theatre until 24th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: