Shakespeare ReFASHIONed is a series of events at Selfridges which mark the 400th anniversary of The Bard’s death, with the focal point being a performance of Much Ado. The collaboration is an intriguing idea, in many ways Selfridges – frequent winner of the accolade ‘The Best Department Store in the World’- is full of theatricality; the artistry of its window dressings, the enormity of its ‘costume wardrobe’ and skill of it’s make-up artists make it a perfect place to construct a performance.
In reality it feels quite odd stepping inside this haven of luxury goods to ‘consume’ theatre, but The Faction, the theatre company who have partnered with Selfridges, have done their best to meet the brief. They’ve produced a hybrid show- a sort of Shakespearean catwalk- that trips through the plot with the speed of a C21st Selfridges sale shopper. Slashing their way through the text, this production comes in at the discounted running time of 90 minutes, something which allows the performers to maintain pace and energy, but left this reviewer feeling short-changed.
Consumerism puns aside, the cast of this production are a perfect fit for their roles. Daniel Boyd and Alison O’Donnell are well matched as the sparring lovers, Beatrice and Benedick. O’Donnell’s Scottish accent seems to enliven the natural bravado of Beatrice’s lines, whilst Boyd brings a modern cheekiness to the witticisms of Signior Montanto. Equally, the contrasting sweetness of the other couple, Hero and Claudio, is presented with an earnest honesty by Harry Lister Smith and Lowri Izzard, the latter making an impressive professional debut. There are also some interesting flourishes in terms of casting with Caroline Langrishe (familiar to some audience members from her television appearances in Judge John deed and Outnumbered) taking on the matriarchal role of Leonata and who brings real zest to the gulling of Beatrice.
Interesting but not necessarily effective are the ‘digital cameos’. The traverse stage is flanked on three sides by screens with which the actors interact. Firstly, we see Meera Syal (Goodness Gracious Me) perform the role of messenger in the guise of a news reporter. Later we have Simon Callow and Rufus Hound, who take on the comic roles of Dogberry and Verges- the foolish policemen who inadvertently uncover Don John’s villainy. The screen transmissions are certainly a great way to bring in some star-studded cast, and an even better way of keeping the stage uncluttered and free from scene changes, but I find Baz Lurhmann-style TV reports and the use of twitter updates to clarify plot (“Don John is found guilty of #slander”) slightly condescending and not entirely original.
Perhaps I’m missing the fun involved in these digital additions, but overall the speed which which the cast whip through the plot, and the focus on comedy at the expense of character development means it feels a little superficial at times. This is particularly true of the second half which flits from Hero’s exposure as an unchaste woman, to her false death, Borachio’s revelation and then the resolution in no time at all. Although the audience know that a comedy will end in happiness, this hugely edited version means we loose the sense of risk and potential tragedy: I never really felt there was anything at stake for the lovers. The paring back of the comic subplot, the merging of Conrade and Borachio’s roles, the removal of Beatrice’s father means that, while this production gives a flavour of Much Ado, it doesn’t leave you feeling completely satisfied.
Much Ado About Nothing runs at Selfridges until Saturday 24th September, and performances begin at 7.30pm in the Lower Ground level.