Review: CAST Much Ado About Nothing

Fran Fabriczki 9 October 2014

Taking on one of the most adapted and universally loved Shakespeare comedies; the cast and crew of the Cambridge American Stage Tour had their work cut out for them. Unquestionably, they rose to the challenge, attempting to rectify certain points of the play that have often troubled modern audiences, while making it clear, that Much Ado About Nothing is in fact, purely comedy.

The play’s patriarchal overtones seem to be immediately subverted by portraying Leonato as a woman, Signora Leonata, Hero’s loving mother. Marriage is no longer a monetary exchange between men, yet Hero’s acquiescence to marry whichever man may propose is still troubling, leaving the burden of this perplexing plot element entirely on her, rather than on the overpowering patriarchal order. The rigid gender binaries of the original are still present, with the simple symbolic power of skirts and trousers only uprooted during Beatrice’s diatribe against marriage. The strong homo-social bonds that drive the original play are also represented through the trio of Don Pedro, Claudio and Benedick. Clad in preppy blazers and shirts, they resemble a group of American fraternity brothers, vacationing in Italy.

This image is furthered as the masked ball is transformed into a frat-party complete with Red Solo Cups and cheesy Italian pop music. Indeed, the production seems to revel in the confusion of cultures and ages, embracing the original language and Italian setting, but transporting us to the modern day with costumes, props and gestures. The play is modernized with as little material change to the script as possible; yet some lines and roles are expertly reassigned to heighten the comedic effect.

The secondary characters of the play are, without exception, fully exploited for their comedic possibilities. Dogberry and his co-workers are hilariously transformed into doughnut-chomping American police officers, a pop-culture image that is fitting for the dim-witted character. Don John is similarly used to comedic effect, rather than a serious threat, as he gleefully pops balloons in his impotent and unexplained rage. Attesting to the cast’s comedic powers (and especially Henry Jenkinson’s energetic rendition of Benedick), they were even able to elicit a laugh from the crowd as Beatrice asks Benedick to ‘Kill Claudio’, a scene that is often regarded in a much more somber light.

The addition of musical numbers furthers the campy style of the play, signaling that this classic Shakespearean comedy need not be taken too seriously. Yet music also serves to punctuate the energy of the play, with a beautiful rendition of Sigh No More becoming the highlight of the 2 ½ hours and giving Mumford and Sons a run for their money.

Side-stepping some of the social implications of the original, CAST’s production breathes new comedic life into Shakespeare’s work, creating a highly entertaining show.

9/10

'Much Ado About Nothing'  is playing at the ADC Theatre at 7.45 pm until Saturday. Get your tickets online at http://www.adctheatre.com/whats-on/drama/much-ado-about-nothing.aspx