The Wyrd Sisters Theatre Company was founded in 2013 with a goal to produce classical works with a twist. They often gender switched main characters aiming to cast the right personality to a role rather than worrying about gender specificity. After a sell out run of their predominantly female cast of Macbeth their production of Much Ado About Nothing has been transferred to the Drayton Arms after a successful run at New Wimbledon Studio Theatre, and boy am I delighted that it was!
This up-to-date production of one of Shakespeare’s must famous comedies hails to the idea that Shakespeare’s plays are timeless and still incredibly current. The Wyrd Sisters have dragged this 400 year old comedy right up-to-date with spectacular and side-splitting results. Much to my disappointment, I scarcely see a Shakespeare comedy that truly makes me laugh, and I’ve seen quite a few to say the least! Rarely do I see Shakespeare’s comedies executed so well that I am literally clutching my sides in fear of them splitting. I laughed…oh did I laugh. From beginning to end we were treated to hilariously uninhibited dialogue by an immensely talented group of actors with phenomenally creative and entertaining theatrical devices from director Joanna Freeman. This play was full of innovative and hilarious ideas that brought a refreshing and liberating twist on this well known classic.
The Wyrd Sisters set this production in May 2011 with army men and women returning from the War in Iraq. We are in Messina and we are having a party. The play open and closes to jovially wild singing and dancing by the whole, surprisingly large, company. There is music throughout which is rehearsed and performed beautifully and often had me inadvertently tapping my foot in time with the music while watching the glorious merriment of singing and dancing that has happening on stage. The play begins.
One immediate thought is that Benedick and Beatrice are not what I would call the ‘stereotypical’ casting of the two romantic leads. Beatrice, Charlie Ryall, stands moodily in a black Nirvana t-shirt looking like someone who had just crawled out of Kerrang magazine while Benedick, David Paisley, enters with his booming Scottish accent and stands with his different array of arm tattoos; visible in his army clothing. Of course, there shouldn’t be stereotypes of who should play the heroes and heroines of Shakespeare, but it is a stereotype I see annoyingly often. All I can say is anyone who has a fixed idea of what Shakespeare should be or who should be in it needs to see this production!
Despite any initial reservations, I came out with the conclusion that Paisley and Ryall are without doubt the most perfect actors to play these well known leads, and whoever cast them is a genius! Their timing, humour, use and understanding of the text is an absolute joy to watch. Their chemistry was delightful and they made it easy for this twenty first century audience to understand Shakespeare by taking out all the old fashion bells and whistles and by simply being two real people, simply talking to each other on stage. Not only that, these two actors are comically brilliant, and they manage to bring out the humour in the text effortlessly and in droves.
One curious aspect of this play was that the character Claudia, more commonly known as Claudio, was played by a woman. Oddly, and to huge praise of this by the company, I barely noticed and did not ponder on it until I had left the theatre later that evening. Freya Alderson, who plays Claudia, played it neither overly as a man nor a woman. She was addressed to as female, though was dressed neutrally throughout. Alderson fulfilled the role spectacularly without drawing attention to the gender change, therefore easily and confidently cementing the ethos of the Wyrd Sisters in casting on personality rather than gender. An interesting alteration that succeeded due to the genuineness of it’s undertaking.
It is so incredibly refreshing to see Shakespeare performed without the heavy dresses, extravagant props, and over the top theatrical effects. The Wyrd Sisters strip all the nonsense away and deliver you the story as it was originally intended: a few props, some music, a muddle of accents and a whole lot of laughs. This production is an absolute triumph for this small theatre company and I am sure we will be hearing of great things from them in the future. I know I for one will be eagerly anticipating the news of their next performance!
Much Ado About Nothing is playing the Drayton Arms until 7 September. For more information and tickets, see the Drayton Arms website. Image by Drayton Arms.