Following on from the success of Macbeths last year, GOLEM! Theatre return to the Hope with a reworked version of Shakespeare’s famous comedy Much Ado About Nothing. Company co-founder David Fairs once again has taken on creative duties, using only Shakespeare’s words but switched around to tell a slightly darker story.
After facing humiliation at the hands of her fiancé, Claudio, on her wedding day (at the altar, no less), Hero has died. It is now the eve of her funeral, and Claudio, Beatrice and Benedick seem to have unfinished business: Claudio with the truth about Hero’s tragic death, and the bickering Beatrice and Benedick with each other! As the trio reach an accord, Claudio ‘conspires’ with his dead fiancée to bring the warring couple together in love. Will he succeed in his task? Should he even be attempting it..?
In Much Ado About Nothing, of course, there are many more characters and threads of plot involved, but what Fairs has done so brilliantly with his twist on the play is boil it down to the key bits of storyline, with three of the key players. Not only does it give us an opportunity to be told a slightly different version of events to the original play, but it also casts these characters in a different light – even in elements that remain unchanged. And it definitely stands alone: you don’t need any prior knowledge of Much Ado to be able to follow the story. Solely using Shakespeare’s own words lends a gravity and authenticity (these are tried and tested lines, after all), also demonstrating how adaptable and flexible his work continues to be.
The room is set up in the traverse, Hero’s coffin at the centre. Seats are in single rows, which combines well with Anna Marsland’s direction to allow pretty much nothing to go unmissed by the audience. The only moment that doesn’t work so well is the wedding clip being played on a smartphone; the audio is mostly fine, but it would be best accompanied by more of a visual. Depending on where you’re sat it is occasionally visible, but if there were a way to project it (considering budget, of course), or play it on a larger device in the same manner (they do use a tablet at one point in the show anyway), that would make it even better.
The cast of three have a great dynamic that works perfectly for the trio of well linked characters: Beatrice was Hero’s cousin, Claudio and Benedick are great friends, and Beatrice and Benedick have a history… Sarah Lambie and David Fairs play the quick-witted exchanges dexteriously – you can almost see the words dripping in venom as they leave their mouths. And it’s quite a rollercoaster the couple embark on through the course of the play, Lambie and Fairs bringing subtle changes to their performances as the plot unfurls.
Conor O’Kane excellently portrays Claudio’s grief and guilt, which is almost continuously present throughout the play, aside from when he tries to distract himself by playing matchmaker to Beatrice and Benedick. His solo scenes, often talking to Hero in her coffin, are moving and amusing at times, as O’Kane has Claudio treading the fine line between mourning and the beginning of some grief-induced madness.
My verdict? A terrific original spin on a much-loved Shakespeare comedy, casting a darker shadow over the embedded humour – the cast are wonderful.
I Know You Of Old runs at the Hope Theatre until 1 July 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office.