The National Youth Theatre REP company was founded a decade ago, as an alternative to expensive drama school training. The company offers free practical training to performers aged 17-25. Now, they bring their lyrical adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy, Much Ado about Nothing, by poet and playwright Debris Stevenson, to the West End stage.

Credit: Helen Murray

Upon entering the auditorium, the first thing your eyes are drawn to are the screens on stage which display ‘Love Island’ style VTs of the characters. They display their name, occupation, and age, and they are on a show called ‘Nothing Island’.

Zoë Hurwitz’s set design is immediately reminiscent of the reality tv show which this play is influenced by. With neon lights, colourful bean bag chairs, personalised water bottles, and even an appearance or two of an Elf bar. The design is fun, well thought out, and perfectly sets the scene. The staging is also constructed so that the audience can see behind the scenes of this television show. With the backstage areas visible and complete with onstage crew members, who play characters within the show. The screens onstage also display tweets at points throughout the show, which proves comical.

Stevenson’s script retains Shakespeare’s words, and all of the moments which the play is known for. Josie Daxter’s direction is tight and slick. The show saunters in the first 30 minutes, but finds its feet after this and steps up a gear for the remaining run time. I do feel that an interval would have been nice as the production is very word heavy, which is to be expected from the Bard’s work, but even more so when you squash the play down into just 90 minutes – this is then felt even more.

Credit: Helen Murray

Standout performances come from Isolde Fenton (Beatrice) and Daniel Cawley (Benedick), who are both hysterical – particularly during the infamous eavesdropping scene, which sees them hide under bean bags and in rubber rings.

Other performances that are deserving of a mention include; Jasmine Ricketts as the villainous Don John, vaping her way through dramatic lines of the script. Eleanor Booth’s Doctor Dogberry is the on set psychologist, and as a relaxed hippie, this role works seamlessly. Plus Hannah Zoé Ankrah as Friar, the host of the show, is energetic and charismatic throughout. 

Mwen’s Sound design helps to bring the scenes to life, building tension during the more dramatic moments and playing music during the fun, dance sequences. The opening number was sung, and I did feel that the music was too loud, slightly drowning out the performers. But I went to the matinee showing which was a preview, so I’m sure this can be ironed out quickly.

Credit: Helen Murray

Debris Stevenson’s use of movement means the show is interesting to watch at all times. There is excellent use of slow motion movements and dance numbers to keep the show varied and engrossing.

The reality television setting of this production is a stroke of pure genius. It works faultlessly, providing comedy and drama, plus it highlights the sexism and toxic environment behind the scenes of such shows. Where on screen dramatics are often put above the contestants own mental health. Although the show took a while to find its feet, when it took off it really soared. This production is fun and light hearted. It proves once again that the Bard’s work is truly timeless, and can be adapted for almost any setting. This would be the perfect introduction to Shakespeare for a new theatregoer. Plus it’s lovely to see fresh young talent get the chance to perform on a main stage.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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