Thursday 13 July 2023

Stage: As merry as the day is long

Much Ado About Nothing
by William Shakespeare
adaptation Lewis Ironside
director Stacey Norris
with Beth-Louise Priestley, Flora Sowerby, Holly Durkin, Stacey Norris, John Mitton, Matthew Seager, Chris Lane
Leicester Square Theatre, London • 5.Jul-9.Sep.23

The Sh!t-faced Shakespeare gang returns to London, taking on Shakespeare's beloved romantic-comedy Much Ado About Nothing. Their unique selling point is that one cast member has consumed quite a lot of alcohol before the curtain rises, which so fellow actors are required to improvise their way through scenes that have been thrown into chaos.

Priestley is the host for the evening, rushing around with an airhorn trying to keep things from going too far off the rails. To some success. She also gives a few audience members noise makers, which they can sound to give the inebriated actor another drink. For this performance, Sowerby is the wobbly one, and she's playing the lead role of Beatrice, whose antagonism for the charming Benedick (Mitton) sets off various rivalries, mistaken identities and love at first sight for Beatrice's aunt Leonata (Norris) and cousin Hero (Durkin), plus Benedick's pals, the lovelorn Claudio (Seager) and snaky Don John (Lane).

Of course, having a drunken Beatrice creates all manner of mayhem on-stage, sparking both inside jokes between the actors and running gags about sexually transmitted diseases, all while everyone tries to keep the story moving forward. The show's co-creator Lewis Ironside has trimmed Shakespeare's text down considerably, and the actors know it so well that they're able to keep the plot moving even when it begins to feel amusingly unrecoverable.

With the electricity of live performance, this generally out of control approach is hilarious to watch, as the performers tease each other and the audience, trying to both sabotage and rescue the production at the same time. Their quick wit is riotously funny, and the generally silly atmosphere is infectious. This isn't the deepest of Shakespeare's comedies, so turning it into such a ridiculously absurd farce isn't much of a problem. Indeed, it's pure escapist joy.

And because the cast members swap roles from night to night, including the one who's drunk, this is the kind of show that would be a lot of fun to revisit over and over again. 

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photos by AB Photography • 12.Jul.23

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