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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows, and various online archives preserve still more vintage productions. Even as things return to normal we continue to review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Much Ado About Nothing
BBC 2005 and Amazon Prime and other outlets   April 2024

In 2005 the BBC commissioned a series of modern plays based on Shakespeare. Only four were made, with this 21st-century rom-com an enjoyable twist on its source.

Playwright David Nicholls turns Beatrice into the star newsreader on a provincial television channel, forced to share the anchor role with old boyfriend Benedict. As the couple wittily bicker, the crew conspire to make them fall back in love, as much to keep peace in the studio as anything else.

Meanwhile airheaded weather girl Hero's budding romance with staffer Claude is threatened by rejected suitor Don.

Sarah Parish introduces Bea as a hard-edged diva out of The Devil Wears Prada, but with enough hints of unhappiness to suggest the effort it took to create a protective shell around a vulnerable core.

Damian Lewis's Ben is a simpler character, a happy-go-lucky bloke with little indication of any depth, and his story is one of being very fortunate to catch a woman he hardly deserves.

The two eavesdropping scenes (in which the others let each one hear them saying the other loves them, thus planting romantic thoughts) are enjoyably staged, with an 'accidentally' open microphone in one case and ladies' room chatter in the other.

Billy Piper may start Hero off as more of a birdbrain than is really necessary, but playwright Nicholls' biggest change in Shakespeare's story lets the character refuse to be a victim and grow in a satisfyingly 21st-century way.

Even Derek Riddell's jealous Don makes more sense than his motivelessly nasty Shakespearean counterpart, leaving only Tom Ellis's Claude as too underwritten for the actor to do much with.

The occasional Shakespearean line in Nicholls' script will amuse those who spot it without clashing in a way that would startle those who don't.

Since Shakespeare's basic premise of the feuding couple who are obviously made for each other has become the model for at least half of all stage and screen comedies since then, it is no surprise that it works very nicely here, with the adaptor and actors adding original touches that make for a very entertaining 90 minutes.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare Retold - BBC 2005) - 2024
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