Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, tucked away under the arches of Waterloo at the Network Theatre, is an incredibly feminist play. Alex Farrell and Jodie Braddick’s production takes the play’s messaging a step further in its interpretation and casting choices. With a set by Paul Lennon and sound design by Thomas Cheeseman, this play is as ridiculous and fun as the bard no doubt intended.

a wonderful example of the beauty of Shakespeare

A comedy set in Messina, Much Ado About Nothing follows the relationships between Beatrice (Naomi Bowman) and Benedict (Lio Lylark) and Hero (Daniella Harrison) and Claudio (Owain Jones) who are brought together when Don Pedro (Alain English) and his entourage arrive in the city. The play deals with themes of friendship, love and rumour, and the dangers of listening to it. In a world where misinformation is rife, not only is Network Theatre’s production extremely relevant, but in a way that does not make us overly depressed at the state of the world.

The women in this play are incredibly active characters, from the parallels between Hero and Beatrice to strong statements like, ‘I would eat his heart out in the marketplace’ which is an incredibly satisfying moment. This production has been framed as even more feminist because of the way it subverts Shakesepare’s heterosexual pairing between Beatrice and Benedict for one that is sapphic. The reasoning for this choice is that Beatrice's subversion of patriarchal norms by refusing to marry is undermined by her eventual marriage to Benedict. However, whilst Network Theatre frame Benedict and Beatrice’s relationship differently, they cannot ignore the fact that the pair is brought together by the machinations of the ruling patriarchy. This production therefore is a wonderful example of the beauty of Shakespeare; that the timelessness of his works can fit into any setting, and even though they can be used to argue just about anything, the progressiveness of this play really came through in this production.

The entire cast lent into the comedy of the play completely and this was clear from the way they played off of each other, to the opportunities they took for comedy as with Bowman and Lylark’s antics, particularly when they were hiding themselves to eavesdrop on conversations. In fact, it was this pair’s skill and comedic timing that heightened the comedic elements of the play over the dramatic. From the pair’s asides to changes in pacing and speeches, the respective arcs and changes in their relationship and overall character development is incredibly clear, as is the chemistry between the pair. Whilst it cannot be said that there is weakness among the cast, Bowman and Lylark stand out and pull off a performance to an incredibly high standard that had us laughing raucously in our seats. The way they lean into moments of hilarity sells them and their characters. Lylark’s heightened emphasis on Benedict’s tendencies for melodrama are particularly side-splitting.

Hannah Dormer’s Dogberry is another character that stands out due to her skill as a performer. Whilst Shakespeare’s lower characters' entire purpose is built on the comedy they bring to the piece, Dormer’s performance is something else in the way that it appears to go beyond the character's initial purpose. With an affected, blustering voice and a seriousness that adds humour to everything she says, Dormer’s use of the 4th wall break in particular engages us at a point in the play where we feel a little restless. It’s the way Dormer delivered even her most ridiculous lines with a completely straight face, not breaking character for a moment, that added so much to her performance and overall delivery of the part.

It is difficult to bring something new to Shakespeare, but Farrell and Braddick’s Much Ado About Nothing is an energetic, fun and ridiculous piece of theatre. The cast have full appreciation for the wit and humour that defines the play, which makes this piece all the more enjoyable to watch.

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Reviews by Katerina Partolina Schwartz

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The Blurb

In this modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy, Benedict and Beatrice are a lesbian couple reluctantly reuniting after a vicious break-up and a fraught political campaign in what is ultimately a celebration of queer identity and love.

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