Much Ado About Nothing: love, conflict and an exploration into the societal constraints of gender, there’s something for everyone during Re-freshers’ week at ADC’s Mainshow. What better way to ease back into the academic frenzy of Lent Term than with a Shakespearean comedy? With the cast and crew having gone on a two-week long tour across Europe, they are now back in Cambridge for a homerun and ready to bring a finely-tuned production to the stage. Alex Sorgo and I caught up with the bubbly and energetic cast and crew to discuss their European tour, and coming back to perform in Cambridge: Geraint Owen (Director), Katherine Ridley (Tour Manager), Theo Heymann (Production Manager), Shimali de Silva (Beatrice) and Stanley Thomas (Benedict).
What portrayal and take of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing were you looking to do?
Geraint Owen: For me, it was important to do what I thought was a faithful interpretation. To take the play, without putting something on top of it, like a concept which takes it into a different world. For this tour and audience, I want to sell them this play and not a version of Much Ado About Nothing. I wanted to get across what I felt were the main issues and themes of the play.
Shimali de Silvia: The fact that it was a collaborative effort was really important. It really shaped my view of doing a touring show as opposed to a show just in Cambridge, because you start out as this new performance that you haven’t quite gauged yet, and then gradually create something which fits each individual atmosphere, venue and audience during the two weeks.
How did you approach the uncomfortable gender standards in the play?
SdS: I played Beatrice, who is this intelligent, emotional woman who doesn’t fit into the society she is forced to mould herself into. So that’s where my “If I were a man” speech comes from; a place of real frustration. Meanwhile, Benedict is trying to confess his love for her, so as two actors you are playing two different atmospheres in the same scene. Benedict is written to play for laughs, whereas I am trying to make the audience feel for me and the struggles of being trapped in a female body which disempowers you. You are almost fighting against the other actors for the stage in moments like that.
GO: It’s in a world where they are having this fun, but there are still these issues, so we wanted to make sure that these things still existed when we got to the second half. These accusations and alarming treatment of Hero has come from somewhere, and not from out of the blue.
Did you find it difficult as actors to get the meaning of Shakespeare on tour?
Stanley Thomas: The whole point of Shakespeare and theatre is telling a story, and it’s very difficult if people don’t understand the language. So as actors you have to respond to what is happening in the audience, and their reaction. There is a lot of it where the language isn’t coming through, and then you have to perform more physically and energetically, the language won’t necessarily convey all you want to convey.
GO: One time, a teacher came up to me at the end of a show and said that a pupil had commented that seeing the play performed had really helped them understand it. It is really a testament to our team.
How were you able to create a set design which worked in each of the theatre spaces you performed in?
GO: With the set designer (Jack Parham), we created a set of a box which unpacks on itself, so initially is a white box that comes out into colour. I wanted something that had the potential to be fun and like a carnival, but also something that is quite performative and a shock when the second half comes. A deception and joke to someone watching. Is the pressure of conveying the themes of the play, off now that you are doing a home-run? ST: Every audience will have a different expectation of what they are wanting. Whether an audience knows the play or not, it’s our responsibility to always do something interesting with it.
KR: Anyone who has been following us on social media will be aware that we have been performing to school children, and I think that anyone who is expecting a very simple, pantomime version of MAAN (although there are bits that are quite slapstick) will be pleasantly surprised. Geraint and everyone has been aware from the start that this has to work for school children as well as a Cambridge audience.
Why should people ultimately come to watch Much Ado About Nothing?
ST: There is so much in the play. It’s fun and also really tragic. It discusses themes, which are still relevant and very important today: being an outsider, relationships and feminism.
KR: It is also just so entertaining to watch. A few of my friends have asked me if I’d ever get fed up with watching the show over and over again, but I am actually really excited to see it again. This cast and crew promise this production to be an explosive feast of masquerade and spectacle.
This article originally appeared in the first edition of Lent term 2018.