BWW Review: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Wilton's Music Hall
Well there's certainly much that's ado, but is it about nothing? More of that later.
We're in modern dress with a female (combatant) soldier and a rap and roll soundtrack for Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory's production of Shakey's comedy (comedyish) battle of the sexes. As usual, Benedick is jesting for all the single gentlemen and Beatrice is lampooning for the single ladies, while merry mischief is made by their friends. Cue bantz aplenty as insults fly, vows of bachelorhood are made and broken, white lies and lies of a darker hue are spun and they all - almost all - live happily ever after.
Does it all work? Maybe not all, especially in a first half that spends far too long setting up the cathartic wedding scene (perhaps exacerbated by a 30 minutes delay on Press Night for a show already three hours long). But much does work too - and it left me with a few questions about the way we live today, a mere 420 years on from "Much Ado's" first production. That Shakey built 'em to last.
Geoffrey Lumb and Dorothea Myer-Bennett make a handsome pair of on-off lovers, giving full value to their speeches (some of their fellow cast members need to slow down a little in this venue, full of character, but with brutal acoustics). Both can raise an eyebrow with Roger Mooreish panache and (crucially I suspect) we know they have the required chemistry from the first time we see them.
Hannah Bristow (once I'd convinced myself she wasn't a 21 year-old Rachel Weisz) does the wronged Hero very well and Christopher Bianchi frightened me with his denunciation of his daughter at the ill-fated wedding. Bethan Mary-James has a pleasing voice as Margaret, perticularly when leading some fine harmony work.
While director, Elizabeth Freestone's, commitment to gender-blind casting is laudable, her flipping of the villain, Don Jon, to female did not add anything, indeed, her revenge for her slighting by her brother, Don Pedro, is a man's revenge and jarred against Georgia Frost's playing - which was never less than commendable in the circumstances.
This reviewer approaches all such casting decisions with an open mind, but, especially with Shakespeare, they fail more frequently than they succeed. A writer with unparalleled command of language allied to a piercing insight into the psychology of men and women (see B and B in this play as an exemplar) may have been working with male actors playing women, but never female actresses playing men. The text emerges thus, far more often than not.
While Don Jon awaits her Iago-like comeuppance, and Shakey gets to underline some of his favourite themes (marriage is desirable - maybe even necessary, Christian mercy is good, half-siblings aren't to be trusted), all this dicing with the truth in matters of courtship is remarkably up to date.
New South Wales is considering a law to make sexual consent obtained through lying to be criminal offence. There's a lot of that sort of thing goes on in Shakey's plays (though not, to be fair, in this one - well, not quite) and while the nature of James Bond in the age of #MeToo is being talked about, that's not the only long-running franchise that might be due a re-think.
Photo Mark Douet