One of the many things I love about Shakespeare’s plays is their timelessness. The fact that we’re not only still performing them over 400 years later, but finding new and exciting ways to adapt the same texts, is nothing short of incredible. The Wyrd Sisters’ production of Much Ado About Nothing is one of these exciting new interpretations. The company, formed in 2013, produce plays with a gender-bending twist, and make their casting decisions based on how well the personality of the actor matches with the character, regardless of whether they’re male or female.
The result, in the case of Much Ado About Nothing, is refreshing and surprising, offering a wealth of new possibilities and avenues to explore within Shakespeare’s text. Don Pedro’s decision to disguise himself as his friend becomes a lot funnier once you know Claudio is now Claudia, for instance. And I loved the decision to place a matriarch – Leonata, rather than Leonato – at the centre of the action. It does take a minute or two to figure out who everyone is, if you know the original story well; but at the same time, it’s almost unnecessary to do that, because this could easily be a whole new play. You can go in knowing nothing, and still have a great time.
This production, directed by Joanna Freeman, transfers the action of Much Ado from Italy to Somerset, as Don Pedro and his troops arrive home from the war (in Iraq, we’re informed by the programme), and head for Leonata’s house. As unlikely as this new location may sound, it really works; with the stage bathed in a warm yellow glow, you can easily believe yourself into the sun-kissed orchards of Messina. All that’s missing is a glass of cider for every audience member.
Unsurprisingly in a comedy that’s all about pranks and misunderstandings, there’s an air of mischief and fun throughout the play. The characters have come to Leonata’s to party, and the cast seem to be doing exactly that, and having the time of their lives. This relaxed atmosphere is further enhanced by the addition of folk music, from the beautiful violin solo performed by musical director Tom Newell before the play begins, to the energetic cast singalong at its conclusion that means you can’t help but leave the theatre with a smile on your face.
In an excellent cast, it’s hard to choose any standout performances. Michael Bagwell’s Benedick and Charlie Ryall’s Beatrice have fantastic chemistry, and deliver some of the funniest moments as they fight their ‘merry war’. Freya Alderson and Nathalie Barclay, as Claudia and Hero, make an adorable couple, and Wendy Morgan is hilarious as the incompetent Dogberry, but with moments of vulnerability that show how badly she wants to succeed.
Much Ado About Nothing is a joyous romp, full of mischief and music. The Wyrd Sisters have breathed new life into a well-known story, and created a party atmosphere that’s hard to resist, while remaining true to Shakespeare’s original. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this theatre company, whose first production was a predominantly female Macbeth, in which only the witches were played by men. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
Review by Liz Dyer
Illuminate Presents: Much Ado About Nothing
Fresh off their sell-out run of Macbeth, Wyrd Sisters are back with Shakespeare’s classic comedy Much Ado About Nothing, brought vividly to life in partnership with Illuminate Festival.
Re-envisioned as a modern folk tale, complete with live music and occasional gender bending, Wyrd Sisters’ Much Ado About Nothing brings all the classic comedy and drama of the original – exploring trust, friendship and loyalty – as well as welcoming you into a fresh and folky vision of Mesina; atmospheric, good spirited and always slightly ‘Wyrd’…
Much Ado About Nothing
Wed 29 Apr – Sat 2 May, 7.45pm (Thu & Sat mat, 2.45pm)
Sunday 3rd May 2015