In a tiny theatre which proves pretty hard to find, Shakespeare got a modern queer revamp this week.

Network Theatre has been around for 80 years. A community run theatre space located in the underground railway arches of Waterloo station. The company is volunteer run, and they produce their own productions of classical and contemporary theatre. You can also get involved if you fancy learning about a particular aspect of theatre and have some free time on your hands!

In their take on Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice and Benedict are a lesbian couple. Benedict is non-binary, and played by a non-binary actor. The cast and crew are diverse, with trans and sapphic creatives involved in every aspect of creating this show.

The play begins with snapshots of the relationship between Beatrice and Benedict. A flash of light lit up the stage with a tiny snapshot then acted out between them. Of them fighting or sharing a moment – it gave an insight into their relationship. Modern music is used as a backdrop which set the contemporary scene from the start.

Network theatre is a small intimate venue. Simple staging is used which puts all the emphasis on the cast and their performances. The set remains the same throughout the show, which means the cast has full attention throughout.

Beatrice is expertly portrayed by Naomi Bowman. She is physically expressive and uses the lines written to portray Beatrice as sarcastic and hilarious. There’s a scene where she hides behind a clothes rack to eavesdrop and it’s an incredibly funny moment. There’s also a scene when Benedict (Lio Lylark) hides behind a tiny pot plant and a book, which also provides some comic relief for the audience.

In Shakespeare’s plays you normally expect gender nonconformity to be a joke within the play, but here it is beautiful tackled. Not only do we have a diverse cast, but the lines have been changed to reflect Benedict’s pronouns. The characters use the correct pronouns throughout, and gender nonconformity is never the butt of a joke here, it is simply accepted which is incredibly beautiful, and I’m sure resonates a lot with audience members.

Giving Shakespeare a queer revamp is a brilliant idea, and seems to be somewhat of a trend at the moment. Bringing non-binary and trans actors into the show is an even more brilliant idea, and is something that needs to be done in more theatres. The way it is portrayed here with all the characters using correct pronouns and just accepting Benedict for who they are is beautiful.

This production of Much Ado About Nothing had a lot of promise, but certain things were not executed very well. The acting abilities throughout the production are variable. Some actors embody the character and make it their own. Whilst some members of the cast simply deliver their lines. I felt it was quite an odd choice for Benedict to have an American accent, it’s just not what I expected in a Shakespeare play. Plus it is the only American accent within the show – everyone else’s accent was from somewhere in the UK. The pacing of the play also wasn’t the best, the first act was much longer than the second. And the transitions between scenes didn’t always flow smoothly.

However, the end scene proved the highlight of the night – with Beatrice and Benedict finally learning how they both feel about the other. They are given a note which the other had written, it’s a beautiful scenes and the performances of the two leads throughout the show are nothing short of magical.

It’s no mean feat to take a play written in the 16th Century and make it modern and relatable for audiences today. But Network Theatre have managed it!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite}

Read more of my latest reviews here

Find out more about Network Theatre here!

2 Star Review 3 Star Review 4 Star Review 5 Star Review 2022 2023 Comedy Edinburgh Fringe Edinburgh Fringe Interviews Fringe Interviews Musical News Off West End Play Review Revival Touring Production VAULT Festival West End

Leave a Reply