The Year Out Drama Company’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing begins with a game of charades and its brisk humour quickly melts away my scepticism. ‘Story Shakespeare’ is a misnomer: this is definitely a play, and almost - with its wittily-chosen songs and impressive harmonics - a musical. It’s also a charming, humorous rewrite, fitted with contemporary references that will delight audiences regardless of their fondness for the Bard.
Matthew Warburton’s adaptation itself is full of good ideas, including sunglasses as comically inadequate stand-ins for disguises.
It opens with a Spanish prince’s return to Messina from war. Among his soldiers are Claudio, who loves and is loved by Hero, and Benedick, who scorns marriage and underlines his disdain for Beatrice with a rendition of Bob Dylan’s It Ain’t Me Babe. Their companions conspire to make them believe themselves objects of the other’s unrequited love. Also with them are Don John (the prince’s bastard brother) and Borachio, a soldier he bribes to help him in his plan to thwart Hero and Claudio’s marriage. The young company perform these parts with poise; Julius Wills (Benedick) and Ben Mallett (Don Juan) are particularly good; Jess Bickers (Beatrice) deserves special mention for her intimidatingly assured performance.
Matthew Warburton’s adaptation itself is full of good ideas, including sunglasses as comically inadequate stand-ins for disguises. Making the Watchmen of Messina a group of youth offenders is another inspired choice: their asides during entrances and exits earn some of the loudest laughs of the show.
It’s true that the truncated script feels a little like an express train, barely stopping at each plot point before moving on to the next, while the acting isn’t quite uniform in strength. But Much Ado About Nothing is cheering and funny and it offers a superb, accessible introduction to Shakespeare. Recommended for the entire family.