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‘Much Ado About Nothing’ enters modernity

| Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Emma Kirner | The Observer
Image source: Barbara Johnston

“Much Ado About Nothing” — performed by the Actors From The London Stage at Notre Dame’s own Washington Hall on Jan. 26 — contained exceptional acting from the cast of five, all of whom took on multiple roles.

Said cast included William Donaldsen, who played Claudio, Borachio, Antonio and Margaret; Chris Donnelly as Don Pedro, Friar Francis, Watch, Ursula and the messenger; Katherine Newman as Hero, Leonato, Sexton and Watch; Tom Richardson as Benedick, Dogberry, Conrade; and last but not least, Anabelle Terry as Beatrice, Don John, Balthasar, Verges and Boy. The decision to assign multiple roles to each actor stayed true to early Shakespeare productions, as did some other aspects of the production.

However, it’s important to highlight the modernization of this Shakespeare adaptation. Modernization can have both a positive or negative impact on the audience’s perception of the performance. If you enjoy a fresh lens on Shakespeare, I would highly recommend seeing the Actors From The London Stage. The comedic elements of the play were strongly emphasized with the addition of the actors singing songs. This singing aspect of the play was an interesting element, considering the previous film adaptations of “Much Ado.” Specifically, “Sigh No More, Ladies” appears in the “Much Ado About Nothing” movie directed by Kenneth Branagh and also appeared in this performance.

The production also found a way to make the changing of actors humorous to the audience. Each of the characters has a prop to distinguish who they are in the play at that time. I especially enjoyed the masked ball scene, which causes great confusion among the characters with a wide range of impersonators.

One scene I wished was acted out was Don John’s scheme to defame Hero, though this was not originally written in the play. Still, many other adaptations have included this scene. While on the subject of Don John, I thought his characterization was wonderful. Across the board, the actors committed themselves to multiple roles and did an exceptional job. Anabelle Terry was a wonderful choice for both Beatrice and Don Jon, which were two roles I loved watching her bring to life. The differentiation between the two of them was also fascinating.

I think the reason I take so much care to consider every detail of this production is simple. I love “Much Ado About Nothing,” and when I go to a Shakespeare production, I hope to see a representation of the time in which Shakespeare was writing. But modernism is something that I believe can be done very well, and I genuinely believe that there were many exceptional parts to this play. There was no shortage of beautiful recitation of the text, extremely comedic scenes and a deep understanding of the characters.

Still, there were things I missed though from this production. I missed the Shakespearian era costumes, which to me are always an important aspect of the work. That being said, the actors playing multiple roles would’ve made this difficult to achieve. But as someone with a deep love for engrossing myself in the world that stories were written in, it would have made me enjoy this performance even more.

I must give credit where it is due: This was a performance worth seeing. All directors have different visions for how they believe a play should be performed, and I have a deep appreciation for the way this one was done.


Play: “Much Ado About Nothing”

Starring: Actors From The London Stage

If you liked: “Twelfth Night,” “Pride and Prejudice”

Rating: 4 out of 5 shamrocks

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