1623. A look at a live reading of a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing


Polly Lister – Beatrice/Sexton

Oliver Alvin-Wilson – Benedick

Michael Muyunda – Borachio

Jamie Brown – Claudio

Caroline Parker – Dogberry/Friar/Messenger

Gregory A Smith – Don John/Antonio

Sam Girdham – Don Pedro

Esme Sears – Hero/Verges

Norma Dixit – Leonata

Roya Amiri – Margaret/First Watch

Edalia Day – Ursula/Second Watch/Attendant

1623 and Play On Shakespeare present…….A live online reading of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING – Ranjit Bolt’s exciting new translation of William Shakespeare’s super-sassy comedy of love and deception.

Monday 19th October 2020 at 7.30pm BST. Fully captioned.

For Play On Shakespeare this 1623 cast present a live reading of what is effectively a funny and very accessible modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The adaptation is by Ranjit Bolt. This presentation is done through the ever increasingly familiar Zoom format.

The professional actors involved are spread all over the country and after an introduction by Ben Spiller, each of the actors introduce and describe themselves in forms of name, dress, characters about to be played and personal pronouns.

In his adaptation, Ranjit Bolt keeps the names and relationships, good, bad, sparring and wooing, as the Shakespearean originals. For a little playwright insight: (Wikipedia) Ranjit Bolt OBE (born 1959) is a British playwright and translator. He was born in Manchester of Anglo-Indian parents and is the nephew of playwright and screenwriter Robert Bolt. His father is literary critic Sydney Bolt, author of several books including A preface to James Joyce, and his mother has worked as a teacher of English. From a non academic point of view Bolt’s text style comes across as an economic and subtle marrying of modern short prose style which often blends in, if not the actual prose and poetic words by Shakespeare, then something creatively close that lends itself to a deep respect for Shakespeare’s clever wit. This works especially well with the verbal sparring of Beatrice (Polly Lister) and Benedick (Oliver Alvin-Wilson). Ben Spiller Artistic Director of 1623, enthusiastically reads in the stage directions throughout.

Overall, the cast of Zoom players give colourful and emotional depictions of their characters and convey the adapted story well. Although, critically, the boxed up and distanced Zoom style, in such a complex offering, can occasionally make for technically gappy and halting renditions of the text. In a more ideal, post pandemic world, it would be nice to see and hear the same reading with the actors all sat round a rehearsal table in the same room and miked up and maybe even a hint of some background music. But that is not to be – right now.

Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedy dramas. It is not a superficial play but uses superficiality and deceit, surface conversations and appearances and declared truths and lies to reveal characters both high and low and their searches for authenticity, forgiveness and the ultimate realisation of personal integrity. The first half is full of feisty argument and clever banter but the second half gradually becomes a much darker vehicle for personal discoveries where people start questioning their (and others) fears and possible learning opportunities. By reflecting on the nature of the play, and its themes, it can be about many things and each viewer, reader or listener will discover their own personal take or reactions to the story.

Considering both the advantages and disadvantages of the Zoom format of bringing actors together to present a live reading after five weeks of intermittent rehearsal and character examination this presentation does well to keep us engaged and big kudos to the cast and director for staying with us online after 11pm to discuss the adaptation and how Shakespeare’s play might still make sense to us in our 2020 world. And, thus to end, we especially like the idea that often we, like Shakespeare’s well-drawn characters, still retain that bad habit of speaking without thinking and having to deal with the consequences thereof.


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