Shakespeare in Selfridges? Whatever next?
The reFASHioned Theatre is Selfridges’ brand spanking new 122-seat performance space tucked away on the Lower Ground floor of the enormous Oxford Street store – hard to find if you didn’t know it was there. It’s all Perspex and brightly-lit columns, and on the traverse stage Faction Theatre are currently presenting a nonstop, interval-free ninety-five minute Much Ado About Nothing.
The publicity blurb emphasises the play’s ’contemporary aesthetic’ so I was expecting something truly off the wall. But this version, albeit in modern dress, is true Shakespeare, if radically pared-down. And what it loses in depth it gains in pace and accessibility. The contemporary aesthetic is represented by on-screen appearances by Meera Syall as a newscaster working for Messina News, announcing the triumphant arrival of Don Pedro back from war and Benedick’s new pal Claudio’s bravery, and later on the capture of Don John and the ‘innocence proved’ of the wronged Hero. All of which works remarkably well, (even if Ms Syall is – deliberately perhaps? – out of sync). Later on we have Simon Callow and (a nearly mute) Rufus Hound as the linguistically-challenged Dogberry and his sidekick Verges, issuing orders and delivering news again from on-stage screens. Leonato becomes Leonata – feistily played by Caroline Langrishe – which also fits surprisingly well with the 21st century aesthetic, particularly in the ‘hen’ scene before Hero’s wedding where the girls play with face adornments and weird lipstick.
The characters of Beatrice and Benedick are a challenge for any actors: how to be equally convincing as both the wise-cracker and the lover. What is it with them anyway that makes them so marriage-phobic? Is it denial? The fear of making fools of themselves? Or have they been sparring partners for so long that it takes outsiders to make them recognise their love?
And how is it that such obviously intelligent people are so easily conned by their friends’ (deliberately) clunky tricks, where first Benedick and then Beatrice learn of the other’s love by ‘eavesdropping’ on conversations telling how the one pines for the other? A problem that isn’t helped by these scenes being so often played, as they are here, for broad comedy.
Daniel Boyd is a very modern, even slightly gawky Benedick, more comedian than soldier and more convincing with the verbals than he is in his challenge to Claudio. Alison O’Donnell’s Beatrice is a fiercely intelligent Beatrice who gives as good as she gets, and more, but manages to show some of the character’s sadness too. The rest of the cast – mentioned but not all specifically identified in the programme, oddly – are equally impressive. Lowri Izzard as Hero and whoever it is who plays Claudio make heartbreaking lovers, and Jude Owusu is an imperious Don Pedro. The masked dance scene, with paper masks and weird movement, is a joy. The director is Mark Leipacher.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable night out. Good on you Selfridges, let’s hope you’ve started a trend for Department Store Drama. How about it Harrods?
Review by Patsy Trench
This summer, Selfridges have joined forces with one of the most exciting emerging young British theatre companies in the UK, The Faction, to celebrate Shakespeare400 with a new staging of Much Ado About Nothing at The reFASHIONed Theatre. Much Ado About Nothing at The reFASHIONed Theatre, Selfridges.
Benedick – Daniel Boyd
Margaret – Tala Gouveia
Don John – Christopher Hughes
Hero – Lowri Izzard
Leonata – Caroline Langrishe
Claudio – Harry Lister Smith
Borachio – Jamie Maclachlan
Beatrice – Alison O’Donnell
Don Pedro – Jude Owusu
Much Ado About Nothing
Tuesday 23rd August – Saturday 24th September
Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm
Wednesday and Saturday matinees, 2pm
Running time 90 minutes
Location: Selfridges & Co
400 Oxford Street, London W1A 1AB
Tickets are available from www.selfridges.com