The Marlowe society’s BME Shakespeare for this year was Much Ado About Nothing, a romantic comedy set in the city of Messina in Sicily. When I walked into the ADC theatre, I expected to see the Shakespearean era with the reflection of the courts and flamboyant courtiers. I was happy about the changes made and the suitability in the context of BME. To my delight, the BME rewriting worked really well and the ethnic costumes caught my attention. This interesting take on the Elizabethan play was well directed by Hannah Samuel-Ogbu. The costume design by Tonye Igali and Alessia Mavakala was both clever and satisfying. As a theatre enthusiast, it felt great to see so many ethnicities on the stage at the same time, flowing in and out of this romantic comedy.
The stage design was neat and was well used by the actors. Although the movements could’ve been more polished to bring out the comical effect of the initial sneaking and ‘Noting’. The live music by the band (Saxophone, Guitar – Faraan Cheema; Flute, Trumpet – Coby O’Brien; Keys – Aba Amponsa; Bass – Louis Henry; Trumpet – Kailan T. Hanson; Drums – Karisma Drage and Conductor – Jesimiel Akinsuyi) and costume design helped make the play stand out. The initial performance was enhanced by the lights and band’s live music captured the audience’s attention. Although the actors did a fabulous job, the costumes remained the highlight of the night. From the spin-off on court wardrobes to the wedding lehanga, the costumes represented the richness of the various cultures. The actors were all excellent and the delivery of the playwright’s complicated verses was good. Naphysa Awua and Mei Alozie especially stood out in their portrayals of Beatrice and Benedick respectively. Their chemistry made the rom-com aspects fit well together. At times, it felt like they were underutilised and could’ve lifted up a few dull moments in the play. The rap by Alozie’s Benedick was both amusing and captivating. It brought a flavour of modernity and freshness to the play. Another worthwhile mention was the banter between Xander Pang’s Claudio, Joy Adeogun’s Don Pedro and Marie-Ange Camara’s Leonato. They were engaging and entertaining to watch. Dogberry was great at times but at times fell flat even with the strong performance from Phoebe Deller.
The first half of the play had a strong start and had me completely engrossed in the affairs of Messina. The cast’s energy matched the audience’s enthusiasm. The setting up of the conflict was also well done. I was left wondering if the conflict was rendered minimal on purpose to highlight the more comedic aspects of the play. However, this had little consequence on the overall impact of the play. There was a slight dip in energy in the second half which eventually recovered towards the climax. Louella Lucas’s Hero and the bridesmaids showing up in a veil/ghoonghat in the climax scene was a peak moment and a praise-worthy costume choice. Though, romantic aspects shined gracefully, the comic aspects were the eye-catching moments. Although, some of the characters could’ve been utilised much better in the second half. Especially Rishi Sharma’s Don John and Mohammed Hassan’s Borachio. They were quite immersed in their characters but their presence on stage was limited.
Overall, Much Ado about Nothing was a worthwhile watch and definitely a good theatre experience. The music and costumes give shout-outs and tributes to various ethnicities and the characters are all delightful. A next step in the BME Shakespeare journey could be having actors with different accents. I’ve seen a couple of South Asian movies which use Shakespearean plays as a tool of storytelling with different backdrop settings. It would be interesting to see this more frequently in plays. Until then, Much Ado About Nothing does a great job for BME representation and celebration of Shakespearean plays.