British Ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing hosted a rousing rendition of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at her Chisipite residence last night. It was in one breath, black tie, rock ‘n roll, highbrow, and utterly silly.
The production marked 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, and the 60’s adaptation made the mood of the play even more celebratory than the already hilarious original script. Don Pedro’s company of soldiers were reinvented as a 60’s rock ‘n roll band and came roaring up to Leonato’s home in a flower-power VW kombi, hooter blaring. Their tight fitting leather pants squeaked audibly as they strutted the stage for the nearly three hour performance. Like the Kenneth Branagh film, the masked ball featured birds and other creatures, but there was a shark and an astronaut thrown in too. Traditional productions might feature flutes and simple drums to bring on the mood. Last night’s playlist was all 60’s rock – foot stomping sing along numbers from The Beatles, The Doors, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Simon and Garfunkel and others. It all worked seamlessly with the script, which went unchanged.
Similarly true to the original was Leonato’s beautiful Messina residence, magnificently recreated as a double story house, a gorgeous, warm, alluring mixture of Tudor and Italian architecture that looked so good and felt so real, one wonders if the Ambassador won’t face charges for unlicensed property development. A giant msasa leaned gently into view, reminding the audience that we were still in Zimbabwe.
The performance was put on by a jumble of actors, ranging from well seasoned to debutante, and it came off a treat. There were a few mistimed and bumbled lines, and at one point a group of actors backstage missed a cue to interrupt a conversation leading to a bellowing repetition, but thankfully Much Ado is a comedy, people laughed it off, and the brief instance of unsuspended belief added to the festivity of things. Less forgivable was the poor sound quality, that had people in the back rows straining to hear. Hopefully the next performances will see volumes turned up and more stage mics in use.
The play was anchored by the blazing performances of Eddie Izzard lookalike Benedict Latto as Benedick, and Jamie Bell as Beatrice. The biting disdain the characters have for each other turned into love very convincingly – the chemistry was there. Latto has several Shakespeare plays under his belt and was very funny. No less hilarious or believable was Zimbabwe’s own Bell who cut her teeth at Reps as a 12 year old, and is bound for the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) later this year.
Special mention goes to Simon Thomas, the British Deputy Ambassador in Harare, who in spite of a 20 year hiatus from some occasional amateur acting, took to the stage as the Prince, Don Pedro, with conviction and suitable suavity. Hero, played by local professional Collina Mvududu, was also well portrayed as the meek and delicate petal that Shakespeare intended her to be.
One can’t but wonder, what would the Bard have thought of the whole event. A mixed race crowd from across the world meeting up in ‘deepest darkest’ Africa, beautifully dressed, sipping gluwhein, rocking out to strange music, and laughing at a word for word rendition of perhaps his silliest play. Doubtless he’d have had something clever to say. Doubtless he would have loved it.
Much Ado About Nothing will run again tonight (Friday 17 June) and tomorrow (Saturday 18 June), tickets available online here for $12.
Image: Scenes from the wedding as Claudio (Khozyani Muwowo) rejects Hero (Collina Mvududu). Courtesy of Zimaginate.