All the world’s a stage, or on this occasion, a catwalk – a fitting end to London Fashion week 2016. In honour of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Selfridges have paid homage to the Bard himself by installing their first ever theatre space in the basement in addition to collaborating with a number of eminent designers to dress their windows, and creating the tongue in cheek hashtag #GetTheeToASelfridges. Quite. Given this collaboration, I was a little disappointed that the costumes, while beautiful, were not a bit more flamboyantly Fashion Week.
In this re-imagining of Much Ado about Nothing by young company The Faction we are introduced to the play with the fast-forward button firmly pressed. Condensed down to around 90 minutes, with no interval, this occasionally feels like Shakespeare for the selfie generation – and as my first introduction to the text, I couldn’t help but feel there was something slightly missing. Digital interludes add a new dimension to the plot with big names Simon Callow, Rufus Hound and Meera Syal appearing as breaking news casts or alongside Twitter updates. It’s a nice way to bring in some stars but we were left a little unsure as to why a news report came direct to a single household.
The cast use the traverse stage well, keeping the pace relatively breakneck throughout, appearing and disappearing from every possible stage entrance. There’s choreography through the masked ball which though an effective way of moving the conversation between pairs, wasn’t always the easiest to watch. The whole cast is strong throughout, however the real joy comes in the interchanges between Benedick and Beatrice. Both play their characters to perfection, Daniel Boyd’s Benedick is both charming and frustrating, witty and truly engaging to watch. Similarly Alison O’Donnell, beautiful lilting Scottish accent aside, is both sassy and smart, while at the same time a girl in love. Their respective scenes of being duped in to thinking the other loves them, allows both to show off their physicality and generates warm laughter from the audience. Most importantly, both sing their lines with such ease that the language barrier to understanding Shakespeare is firmly dismantled. Everything from their poise, intonation and body language makes their characters, and relationship, a joy to watch.
Shakespeare’s plays often have implausible endings, with a few marriages thrown in for good measure where there was often little pretext beforehand. This, unfortunately, felt the same and I can’t help but feel that perhaps, in the case of Benedick and Beatrice, this had something to do with the editing. The line of “Get thee a wife” all the more laden with a gender swapped Leonata, subverting the usual course of dismissive roles assigned to women in this play.
At such speed, it’s hard to fully explore the thematic complexity of Shakespeare, and it felt like a whistle stop tour of the play and personalities within. All this being said, it’s fun, fearless and fabulously in vogue this season.
Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare, directed by Mark Leipacher and Rachel Valentine Smith – The Faction. Part of refashioned Theatre at Selfridges London. Until 24th September.