It was with some trepidation, that I walked out of my house to see the Bath University Student Theatre’s (BUST) production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ knowing full well that not only had it been modernised, placing it in the centre of Canary Wharf, but that the text in places had been altered from the Shakespeare original.
As a play it both requires subtle direction; in order to balance the comedy and drama, and complex acting; to bring life to what could otherwise be a very stationary dialogue heavy play. Whilst it would be unfair to say that the play did not achieve these two points – overall being a very enjoyable experience – I could not help but leave wondering if the modernisation added anything of value to the production or if it was a gimmick done simply to draw a bigger crowd.
Set in the day to day goings on of ‘Messina Solutions’, a large company situated in Canary Wharf, this version of ‘Much Ado’ brings us the story of the young naïve and deeply in love Claudio (Cameron Morrissey) and Hero (Holly Taylor). As their love forges on towards marriage Don John (Angel Cascarino), brother of the rich and well respected Don Pedro (Felix Newman), hatches a nefarious plot to quash any happiness his brother or friends may have.
At the same time the self-confessed womaniser Benedick (Sam Lamont) and the fiery, independent, seemingly ever-single Beatrice (Lex Bradshaw) slowly come to the conclusion that their mutual hatred may indeed be masking a much more intimate passion for one another. As the play joyously flirts towards its conclusion, friendships are rendered apart, duels are requested, prisoners interrogated and marriages performed in multiples.
Set in the thrust, the play felt both intimate and three dimensional; the actors taking full advantage of this had no qualms involving the audience whenever possible. The performance area was minimalist but in conjunction with the office desks, the Mission’s raised main stage and white washed walls, gave fullness to what would otherwise be a sparse layout.
Moving on from ‘Blood Brothers’ earlier this academic year it is very apparent that the acting roster of BUST is possibly the strongest it has ever been. Going into ‘Much Ado’ I was both excited and nervous to see how these great actors would tackle Shakespeare, notoriously difficult to both act and be understood at the same time.
Bar a few speedy lines at the beginning of act one or some naturally quiet lines falling short from the Mission’s stage area, the acting was superb. The relationship between Benedick and Beatrice was so believable and nuanced I sometimes forgot I was in a student theatre production, both Lex and Sam deserve a massive amount of praise for a performance that in its self in my opinion more than justifies the cost of the ticket.
Not to be out done Felix Newman once again gave a powerful showing, performing his lines with great volume pace and feeling, Comedically he let the lines speak for themselves being a much needed anchor for the character of Don John, whose tendency to ham it up slightly could have come across as a slightly too theatrical, instead was a joy to watch.
With the exception of Claudio’s strange transition from a kind man, both distraught and angry over the actions of his very nearly wife and her apparent death, to a carefree and arrogant man in what could only be a day, the acting direction; in the sense that the actors were believable and in some cases physically moving, was of an outstanding quality – special mention at this point must go out to Neil Hindley, (who I can only assume went to the acting school of Richard Armitage) for a spectacular scene at the end of part one.
It is truly ambitious to alter the works or words of William Shakespeare. Considered by most to be the greatest play write ever to have lived, at his best his mastery of the English language, scene pacing and composition are bar none, in his worst there are but a few who surpass him.
Whilst the attempt at a modernisation was admirable, I personally felt it detracted from the telling of the story at times. The inclusion of modern musical numbers occasionally felt a tad abrupt, breaking the natural pacing of the iambic pentameters, and the added dialogue was a little meta at times perhaps focusing too much on gaining superfluous laughs and not enough on aiding the cultural transition from a 16th century play to the present.
Overall ‘Much ado about nothing’ was a difficult play to undertake, BUST however have managed to do it justice, producing a funny, emotionally deep and compelling production. While I still hold some reservations about the modernisation, I left thoroughly satisfied by performance as a whole and would happily suggest it any and all that enjoy theatre.
“Let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.” – Don John, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’.