Review: Royal Shakespeare Company's Much Ado About Nothing, on until 12 March. Book here.
[Disclosure: The RSC provided me with free tickets for the purposes of this review as well as a free programme.]
The RSC’s new iteration of Shakespeare’s beloved dark rom-com, Much Ado About Nothing, is what happens when you mix inspiration from Joss Whedon’s uber chic filmed version of Much Ado with Marvel’s fictional African country, Wakanda. While the RSC doesn’t overtly mention these two sources, there are subtle references, or homage paid to both, throughout.
A scene from Marvel's 2018 film, Black Panther, set in Wakanda. © Marvel
As I love anything to do with Wakanda, and Whedon’s version of Much Ado is my all-time favourite version – I was always going to love this RSC version.
Trailer for my favourite film version of Much Ado, directed by Joss Whedon.
Much Ado is the story of love and marriage in a patriarchal and strictly stratified society, where marriage and female reputation is at the heart of social order.
I took this picture of Hero's and Claudio's wedding cake - the scene is set up in the foyer.
The story follows two couples – Hero and Claudio – young, silly, over eager and believing themselves to be in love, despite never having had a real conversation.
I took this picture of Hero's and Claudio's wedding cake - the scene is set up in the RSC foyer.
The other couple, Beatrice and Benedick have had, as Shakespeare hints, a past. Both Beatrice and Benedick, with more life experience, have loudly and publicly sworn off marriage.
Much of the action is centred around bending the stubborn wills of both Beatrice and Benedick to social norms – they’re completely marriageable and society needs them to get married. Things take a dark turn when evil forces undermine the happy young couple, Hero and Claudio.
In most versions of Much Ado, it is usually the sparkling dialogue and sexual tension between Beatrice and Benedick that steals the show. In this RSC’s version, however, it’s the costumes, sets, make-up and music that were the clear stars.
Costume designer extraordinaire, Melissa Simon-Hartman, has put together the most gorgeous, mind-blowingly beautiful and extensive portfolio of costumes I think I’ve ever seen in a theatrical production of this scale. It is truly worth going to see this production, just for the costumes alone.
I took this picture of my programme, showing costume illustration by Melissa Simon-Hartman.
Put the costumes together with set designer, Jemima Robinson’s magical sets – which somehow manage to be minimalist and over the top at the same time, as well as the cool funk/jazz live music composed by Femi Temowo, and the whole effect was completely mesmerising.
My only criticism of this production is with the direction. In my opinion, many of the actors were either over or under acting. And as a result, much of the subtlety and darkness that give the play extra dimension were lost.
Beatrice’s vulnerabilities weren’t given much attention – only her loud opinions and jokes – yet without blending the vulnerabilities with her merry nature, she’s quite a one-dimensional character. Similarly, Don John – the Princess’ brother – is evil and is in disgrace as a prisoner of war.
In the text, much of the darkness in the play spreads from him. Yet, in the RSC’s version, you wouldn’t really know. Many of the other characters aren’t given full scope to express their emotional journeys – and I felt that a layer of richness was lost as a result.
There is one very notable exception. Ann Ogbomo’s performance as the Princess (a Prince, in the original text) stood out as extraordinary. Ogbomo brought to the role an effortless and powerful dignity, which made her utterly believable both as a Princess and as a successful military leader!
This production is cool, dazzling, and chic. Live theatre has never been so fun!
Unless otherwise stated, all photos provided to me by the RSC. Photographer Ikin Yum © RSC