It’s not often that one of Shakespeare’s most loved comedies and a series of Love Island would be found in the same billing, but as the National Youth Theatre celebrates their 10th anniversary, the Rep company come to the West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre with a reality TV inspired Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Josie Daxter.
Shakespeare’s work is given a modern twist here by grime artist Debris Stevenson, and is set in the Messina Villa during filming of ‘Nothing Island’ which bears a remarkable likeness to the similarly titled ITV series, but also brings in some elements from other popular reality series.
In the Rep company’s version, the traditional pairings of Benedick and Beatrice, and Hero and Claudio still occur, but in the contrived settings of re-couplings and grand finales. As well as the traditional story, this Much Ado About Nothing also goes behind the scenes of Nothing Island, exposing the fakery that comes with such programmes.
Stevenson’s adaptation very cleverly blends the Shakespearean language with that of the modern day. The words of the two authors come together as if they had always meant to be that way, and the end result amplifies the comedy of the piece.
The rumours, backstabbing and general mischief making are all still there, just distilled into a purer form for the relatively short ninety minutes run time. Zoë Hurwitz’s set design effectively shows the action happening in front of, and behind, the cameras, and Mwen’s heady soundtrack completes the modernisation of the play.
The Rep company do a marvellous job; this is still Shakesperean prose, but they deliver it with considered clarity. As Benedick, Daniel Cawley and Eleanor Booth as Doctor Dogberry are particularly strong, while Jerome Scott as Balthazar has a confidence that radiates from the stage.
This is the first production in National Youth Theatre’s 10th anniversary season, and it’s a triumph. A funny and clever retelling of Much Ado About Nothing that speaks to the younger generation. Here, reality TV is improved by Shakespeare’s characters, and if you can believe it, Shakespeare is enhanced by placing it in a clever send-up of reality TV.
Much Ado About Nothing plays the Duke of York’s Theatre from 7-10 Feb, as part of the National Youth Theatre REP Company’s 10th Anniversary Season. Tickets are available from https://www.nyt.org.uk/whats-on.