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Shakespeare Refashioned, Selfridges’ conflation of culture and consumerism (although have the two ever really been separate?) have added Much Ado About Nothing to their innovative programme of events that aim to both celebrate the Bard, and make him accessible to everyone in a riotous production crafted by theatre company The Faction.
Director Mark Lepacher and his cast of nine promise a ‘contemporary aesthetic’ that both remains true to the original and notes the continued relevance of appearance, image, rumour, and social standing to the society we live in. Via a television screen with Meera Syal as a Messina News reporter (also the CCTV to show Simon Callow and Rufus Hound as bumbling Dogberry and Verges), bright lights and chart hits, Leonato, played by Caroline Langrishe, becoming a feisty matriarch in a pacey performance, they’ve managed to daub the play in a modern flourish.
And, this being Selfridges, the contemporary twist is primarily portrayed through the clothing, with Beatrice’s shoes proving particularly distracting. With no scenery but a stage more evocative of a runway, there’s certainly a sense of glamour.
As always it’s the banter between Beatrice and Benedick that really makes this play infectious. The smart and sassy Beatrice is played by the excellent Alison O’Donnell, caught in the merry war with Benedick, Daniel Boyd revelling in a flamboyant performance that perfectly portrayed the linguistic wit of Shakespeare’s words. They’re a very different couple to the innocent Claudio and Hero (Harry Lister Smith and Lowri Izzard) also well performed, but as characters never as endearing to the audience.
The speed of the production (coming in at just over 100 minutes) makes it even more painfully apparent the lack of character, depth, and opportunity afforded Hero. Admired for her beauty, with no opportunity to express personality, bartered like a possession, this is not feminist power at its best. It’s unsettling that her mother and father are prepared to pretend that she has died, that Claudio is happy to replace the girl he was dizzingly in love with for one who looks just like her, especially if she now has twice the inheritance on offer too, and that a woman’s word can be so easily dismissed for the sake of honour.
But that’s a criticism of the play itself, or the play’s criticism of society itself, or whatever other complex layer that Shakespeare was trying to achieve, rather than of the Faction’s production. There’s something that feels slightly uncomfortable about criticising Shakespeare — and I feel uncomfortable even admitting that, even as this paragraph starts to get meta.
As in all of Shakespeare’s comedies, the duping and tricks are foolish, the masquerade unconvincing, and the crimes easily uncovered, exacerbated in part by the fast pace of the production. But when crackling dialogue is delivered with nimble eloquence and timing like tonight, realism is a small price to play. Swift paced and bold, with an innovative gaze, this is retail therapy at its best.