Mexico, 1914. Not the typical setting for my favourite of Shakespeare’s comedies Much Ado About Nothing. However, as my eyes wandered over the set – a derelict train carriage with a Mariachi band perched on top – I felt a pang of excitement. This was going to be different.
Having grown up near Cambridge, I’ve been a regular visitor to the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival. For two months of summer, various college gardens are taken over with traditional performances of Shakespeare’s work. It’s a wonderful experience, especially when it’s not raining – but it does begin to feel a bit same-y.
With the opening sequence, characteristic Mariachi music floated through the Globe, a massive contrast from the grey London I had entered from. Masses of colour and dancing fabrics whirled around the stage, as the actors ran around preparing for a visit from Don Pedro. I smiled to myself; I was truly transported.
Matthew Dunster has had mixed reviews for some of his past productions, but this adaptation is both original and convincing. By setting Much Ado after the ‘first wave’ of the Mexican revolution, Dunster models Don Pedro as the Mexican revolutionary leader, Pancho Villa. I have to admit that the mixture of English accents that accompany this Mexican performance was a little jarring at first but, as the play got underway, the concept strengthened.
One element of the Mexican staging received mixed reviews. Pancho Villa was followed by American filmmakers during the civil war, as a way of filming ‘history in the making’, and the Dogberry subplot was modelled on this. It features a flamboyant American film director, whose arrogance is evident in his misuse of the Spanish language. To me, this version of the subplot has real charm, however others have found it cheap, cheesy and unexplained.
Dunster has received universal praise for his gender swapping of Don Juan to Donna Juana and Antonio to Antonia, which adds a further dimension to the politics of the plot. Perhaps the greatest success of the play was the characterisation of Beatrice and Benedick, played by Beatriz Romilly and Matthew Needham. Their wit and humour were contagious, and the roles of the ‘fools’ perfected. All in all, this was a truly brilliant and greatly enjoyed adaptation.