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Much Ado About Salsa at Drayton Arms Theatre | Review

Much Ado About Salsa Leon and Faith
Much Ado About Salsa Leon and Faith

Much Ado About Salsa by Joanna O’Connor is a clever and original adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Joanna is a genius. She takes classics of literate and rewrites and adapts them. In the process, she makes them shorter more enjoyable and adds her own take on them. She is not afraid of taking on big beasts of the literary canon. She has adapted Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, Tess, Far From the Madding Crowd, Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov. Her latest rewrite – Much Ado About Salsa, transported to Cadiz, with only four characters and a running time of 90 minutes. It works brilliantly. The Shakespearian structure is in place but Joanna has given it a thorough refurbishment. Like a classical building with a modern interior.

Joanna has a clear vision of what she wants to do with Much Ado. Firstly she has based it around the dance of Salsa because this gives her a metaphor with which to play with the idea of power in personal relationships. Secondly, by reducing the dramatis personae to just four, she has given Much Ado a sharper focus. She has two couples. Beatrice and Benedict become Bea (played by Joanna O’Connor, is there anything she can’t do?) and Ben (James Kingdon) whilst Leonato is plain Leon (James Edwards) and Hero becomes Faith (Jenny Biggs). So we have a Father and Daughter dynamic alongside the Bea and Ben power struggle.

Salsa dancing gives this version a focus which is at once delightful on the eye but also acts as a metaphor. Dancing as power. This is evident in the first scene as Ben walks in on Leonato and Faith entwined in a dance hold. Ben remarks “It’s like a Freudian nightmare“. And of course the father/daughter relationship in Much Ado is just that: A Freudian nightmare, but it has taken Joanna’s critical eye to bring that to the fore. The change of name from Hero to Faith gives greater clarity to the role. She is exactly that: Faithful. In yet another of Joanna’s brilliant twists Faith refuses Leon’s offer of marriage from Claudio in the guise of her identical niece because she doesn’t want to marry a man who could accuse her of adultery on no evidence and moreover she is not her Father’s to give away. The other way the dance metaphor works is as a battleground between the two main protagonists of Much Ado: Bea and Ben. In Shakespeare, this can get lost in very wordy linguistic sparing. Here it can be visualised in the dance. As Ben walks towards Bea and makes to embrace her she stops him in his tracks by the devastating device of offering her hand for the formality of a handshake. And when they do start dancing we see Ben standing on her toes. Bea then makes plain her unease by asking why do men always have to lead? So we see the power struggle in action as it were. Strictly Coming Dancing as Gestalt Therapy. As they come around to acknowledging their love so their dancing becomes fluent and free-flowing. Joanna O’Connor has given us a Much Ado About Our Time.

4 stars

Review by John O’Brien

Summer Light Theatre are touring a brand-new play, inspired by Shakespeare’s glorious ‘Much Ado About Nothing’.
Down in sunny Cadiz, young Faith is due to marry Calvin, who adamantly refuses to learn to dance. Roped in by her charismatic father, Leon, to inspire Calvin onto the dancefloor, ex-flames Bea and Ben re-ignite their spiky
and passionate association – rather against their wills.
But an unexpected turn of events brings darkness to Faith’s wedding day. Will a once-solid relationship be destroyed forever, or can it be restored through the magic of love and Salsa?

A hilarious, salsa-flavoured theatrical experience, bringing all the light and shade of Shakespeare’s greatest comedy onto a 21st-century dancefloor. You will laugh; you may cry; you will certainly want to dance – so why not see out the summer in style?

Much Ado About Salsa
Booking to 13th October 2018


  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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