Summer of Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing

Summer of Shakespeare There’s no question about it Shakespeare was meant to be viewed. Whilst I love reading through each carefully woven script, deciphering his language and playing with meanings, there is truly nothing better than watching Shakespeare performed and brought to life. Every stage adaptation of every play comes out differently to the last, even when the content is the same, because the beauty of Will’s words sparks independent ideas and interpretation. It is adaptable and fluid – pure theatrical magic.

Looking through my diary I realised that I had booked, in July and August alone, an array of Shakespearean experiences (try saying that after a few drinks!) – two plays I have only ever seen performed, one I had studied and disliked but willing to give a second go to due to a certain actor performing in it and the fourth my absolute favourite Shakespeare play that I have never seen performed professionally.

And so begins my mini Summer of Shakespeare, which opened last Thursday evening with a trip to the cinema…
Much Ado poster
Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing was shot in 12 days, at his home, funded by himself. Suggested by his wife as a way of distracting himself from the post-production slump of editing out favourite scenes from Avengers Assemble, Whedon gathered his own troops and with one month and two days to adapt, cast, prep and shoot it he attempted his vision of contemporary Shakespeare.

And, unsurprisingly, it works beautifully.

Shot in natural light and captured with a black and white filter, there is something so relaxed and domestic about the setting that the original Elizabethan script is relatively easy to settle into (though slightly obscured by the American accents). Though there is a sense of the unpolished about it, it is this that gives Whedon’s Much Ado so much character and charm. This adaptation is simple Shakespeare – no multi-million dollar budgets or convoluted stage settings – and Whedon strips Much Ado down to its bare bones. Minimising the modernisation by placing the stage within a domestic bubble, he allows the story, the words and the actors to fly.

A veritable feast of Whedon alumni is cast in the film with Alexis Denisof (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse and Avengers Assemble) and Amy Acker (Angel, Dollhouse and The Cabin in the Woods) taking up the lead roles of Benedick and Beatrice. Perfectly matched to play the sparring lovers, Denisof and Acker play their roles with a classic style and deliver both the vitriolic barbs and the passionate proclamations with immense energy.

Much Ado collective

Humour is found in abundance, from subtle wit to slapstick, with Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk very nearly stealing the show as the Shakespearean comedy duo Dogberry and Verges. There are no half-arsed attempts at either characterisation or dramatisation, every actor involved has embraced the Shakespearean spirit and delivered. Though there have been plenty of Much Ado adaptations that I have enjoyed, (particularly the BBC’s ShakespeaRetold version with Sarah Parish and Damian Lewis), none have made me laugh out loud quite like this one. Whedon captures the essence, subtleties and silliness of this wonderful Shakespeare comedy and I would gladly watch it over and over again.

I have to admit, going to the cinema to see Shakespeare is not something that I would usually be drawn to – especially when there are plenty of live alternatives, particularly in London. I went because I love Joss and was intrigued to see just how he would interpret the Bard. As it turns out, he does it rather excellently.

Up next…
Macbeth and The Tempest at Shakespeare’s Globe

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