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Much Ado About Nothing (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Much Ado About Nothing

Society: National Youth Theatre of Great Britain (NYT)

Venue: Duke of York’s Theatre. St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4BG

Credits: William Shakespeare remixed by Debris Stevenson. Performed by National Youth Theatre Rep Company.

Much Ado About Nothing

4 stars

So how do you make sense of a patriarchal Elizabethan play for an Instagram-obsessed world? Set it as a production of Love Island, of course. You can always rely on National Youth Theatre to come up with an interesting and original slant, but this time it has really excelled itself with this whackily, clever take on a play written over 400 years ago in 1598.

Nothing Island is a TV programme in which five young men and five young women are lined up to pair off. The producer sits at the side with a screen while her head-phoned minions scamper about with i-Pads. Over-stage screens comment on what’s happening with social media comments – a lot of fun has evidently been had in making these up.  We see the characters both in action and at times when they’re meant to be off-duty but they’re continuously observed. The production is the king to which everything must defer.

Most of the language is Shakespeare with occasional asides, interjections or comments in modern English and liberal word substitution to make it all hang together. Debris Stevenson has also had fun slipping in the odd line from other plays which makes a few people in the audience chuckle. I love the rap dance performed by Beatrice (Isolde Fenton) and Benedick (Daniel Crawley) the first time we see them together. It’s a perfect match to Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter as they fence verbally and in dance with each other.

I also admire the decision for each actor to play in his or her own accent because these young people come from all over the country and it means we get a gloriously diverse aural mix. Fenton, for example, is Irish while Crawley is Scottish.

The cast – the  sixteen actors who form the 2023 NYT rep company – are all strong and there’s some pleasing ensemble work. Both gulling scenes are beautifully directed (Josie Dexter) and very funny. A female Don Jon and Verges as a dappy therapist are among the play’s many good ideas.

Thuliswa Magwaza’s Hero is giggly, girlish and convincingly in love and she does the anguish when she’s wrongfully accused with conviction. Fenton is warm and witty as Beatrice and manages to make the eventual capitulation to Benedick feel natural. And I liked the way Crawley really stressed the innate decency in his character underneath the banter and joshing.

Zoe Hurwitz’s set is terrific. She gives us a window which swivels to become lots of other things including an absurdly excessive floral wall for Hero and Claudio’s wedding. At the end of the play, the production is over and the cast clears the set off the stage – another neat touch.

I’ve seen many way-out attempts to modernise Shakespeare in my time. I have rarely seen one as intelligent as this. It works a treat and never feels forced. Keep ‘em coming, NYT. The Rep Company project is celebrating its first ten years in 2023. Here’s to the next decade and beyond.

First published by Sardines:


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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