Review: 'Much Ado About Nothing' at the Tobacco Factory

I’ll admit it – I’m precious about Much Ado About Nothing. It’s been my favourite Shakespeare play (said like a true theatre student) since the ripe age of thirteen – I grew up watching She’s the Man and Ten Things I Hate About You, but was horrified to learn of how problematic Taming of the Shrew really is, so I needed a Shakespeare play that not only appealed to my budding feminist ideas, but was also genuinely funny – enter Much Ado About Nothing. So, you can imagine how high my expectations were for Elizabeth Freestone’s production of my favourite play! Luckily, it was brilliant.

Freestone’s production is primarily a comedy, authentic to the original Shakespearean play, albeit with some dramatic undertones to highlight the horrors of war – something I think it did ultimately fall short of. Reading the synopsis, this adaptation is meant to discuss inner demons and the readjustment period after returning from deployment, but the soldiers home from war immediately throw themselves into a costume party! These ‘tense’ moments tend to jar slightly, simply because the rest of the play is so incredibly funny. This is down to individual performances – particularly Geoffrey Lumb as Benedick. Benedick, as the lead, has to be particularly funny, and Lumb rose to the challenge magnificently. However, perhaps one of the more overlooked parts of the play is that of Margaret, who in this adaptation doubled as a musician and singer. I found Bethan Mary-James to be a breath of fresh air, and I spent any time she spent offstage looking forward to her coming back on, not to the discredit of the other performers.

The set, in particular, helped to ground the modern-day narrative, with the use of empty kegs as pews in the church for Claudio and Hero’s wedding. The costume party where Don Pedro woos Hero on behalf of Claudio included Benedick dressed up as a Mutant Ninja Turtle and Claudio as Captain America, which I think were apt jokes, thrown out there to see who would pick it up – I appreciate the way in which the costumes were chosen to reflect each character’s identity. However, some elements of the modern-day setting could have possibly been pushed further. When Oatcake, played by Imran Momen (doubled up as Claudio) films Borachio’s (Alex Wilson) drunken boasting, this is never brought up again – Borachio’s crimes are proven to the audience and the rest of the cast through Dogberry and Borachio’s testimony, therefore rendering the video on Oatcake’s phone a little obsolete.

Such is the way of adaptations – some things work, some things don’t, and this is such a joyous production it hardly matters at all.

4 stars out of 5.