[Review] Much Ado About Nothing at The Duke of York’s Theatre

Kat Mokrynski

“The world of reality tv felt like a snug lens that could bring Much Ado About Nothing into sharp focus for a modern audience well-versed in the manoeuvres of singletons looking for love” – Josie Daxter, Director

Walking into the Duke of York’s Theatre to see the National Youth Theatre’s newest production, it was immediately clear that this would be a modern and fun interpretation of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. Pop music was playing, videos introducing the characters were playing on screens on stage, and there was an atmosphere of excitement. The play, performed as a part of the National Youth Theatre, takes on the set of Nothing Island, a clear parody of the hit television show Love Island, in which “Single hopefuls looking for love complete task, couple off and get voted out week by week” (IMDB). Designer Zoë Hurtwitz does a brilliant job of creating a set that is able to transform from backstage into the actual set within seconds with all of the classic reality television stereotypes – A “confession room,” a fancy kitchen, space for dancing and even a pool!

It may have been quite simple, but I adored the modern adaptation of “Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,” a ditty written by Shakespeare and sung by Balthasar, the court singer. The upbeat song both starts and ends the production, giving audiences an idea of what is to come while also bringing in a moment of joy and unity in a show comprised of chaos and treachery. Mwen, the composer and sound designer of the show, does a brilliant job in bringing together the Shakespearean and the modern of the piece established by “Remixer” Debris Stevenson.  Leonato (Jessica Enemokwu) is nearly always on stage as the Executive Producer of Nothing Island, assisted by Conrade, hilariously played by Tomás Azócar-Nevin.

This production of Much Ado About Nothing reminded me of the 2011 West End production starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate, especially Daniel Cawley’s interpretation of Benedick. Director Josie Daxter (an alumna of NYT) does a fantastic job of creating a cohesive play that mostly focuses on comedy while still doing a decent job in dealing with the more serious moments throughout the play. Isolde Fenton, playing the sassy Beatrice, is less of an imitation of Tate but holds her own as the character. 

Appreciation should also be given to the Intimacy and Fight Director, Yarit Dor, who helped create scenes of both the intimate and violent kind that were exagerrated but still managed to appear realistic, similar to situations seen on Love Island and other reality television shows. I particularly loved one scene in which Benedick is attempting to overhear a conversation between some of the boys and ends up carrying one of the stagehands (played with a hilarious, deadpan expression by Olivia Ng) in front of him. Luckily for him, the boys want him to hear the conversation, but it is still a hilarious moment that uses physical comedy to its advantage.

While I enjoyed Much Ado About Nothing as a whole, there were times in which interpretive dance was brought in at times that it felt unnecessary, taking away from the acting going on. Thuliswa Magwaza plays a charming Hero and Jez Davess-Humphrey is a wonderful Claudio, but their more romantic moments are interrupted by dramatic dancing that leaves the audience slightly bemused. Jasmine Ricketts gives an interesting and nuanced interpretation of Don John, turning the villain into a sort of victim, but her impact is taken away through a confusing moment of interpretive dance at the end that feels out of place. 

Another thing that could have been improved was the video design, which took a little bit away from the performance at times. Marthda Godfrey’s videos during the preshow that introduce the characters are quite fun, but the attempt to imitate Twitter reactions to the show’s key moments went wrong several times and the design was a bit poor.

Ultimately, the National Youth Theatre’s Much Ado About nothing is a fun, modern taken on the original play. I, for one, believe that the future of UK theatre, particularly comedy and Shakespeare, is in good hands.

Much Ado About Nothing ran at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 7 to 10 February.


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