Much ado about Sicily

Aug 7 2018 | By More

EU Shakespeare Soc’s take on Much Ado About Nothing

The Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company is taking on Much Ado About Nothing for its first foray into the Fringe, with a six night run at theSpace @ Niddry Street.

Intrigued at the company’s plan to fillet the play down to an hour long show, we asked the company’s creative director Joe Christie how he decided to do it this way and what is going to make this different from other productions.

Beatrice and Benedick, played by Rosie Hart and Jacob Baird. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

Beatrice and Benedick, played by Rosie Hart and Jacob Baird. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

What drew you to adapt this play the way that you have?

“I actually landed on this setting in quite an organic way, believe it or not. When I was sifting through Much Ado initially, I was thinking a lot about what aspects of the play resonate with the contemporary moment.

“When we did our first read-through of the original, the cast asked me how I planned to approach the ending of the play, which is, in many ways, difficult for a modern audience.

A main character essentially capitulates, semi-reluctantly, to social pressure, and there’s a feeling that their spark is dulled because of it. I immediately thought of the long overdue conversations we are now having as a society about gender and power.

“From this point, I realised that Much Ado is as much about how we respond to authority and a pre-determined life as it is about frothy hijinks and the follies of young love. It’s the theme that touches all the characters in some way, and it has implications conventional ideas around the play. If love does conquer all, what values must we sacrifice in pursuit of it?

“Much Ado is riotously funny, especially in the hands of our very talented cast, but people forget how dark a turn it takes in the latter acts. I wanted a setting that captured this unusual combination of tones—an idyll that exists on a knife-edge.

“Sicily is Shakespeare’s original setting for the play. I feel like the early 1980s as a historical moment has an overriding feeling of ‘dolce vita’, while at the same time, the island specifically was suffering through a protracted period of violence occurring under mafia rule. This historical setting has had a huge impact on the narrative and the characterisations.”

Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

How on earth can you squeeze the play into 60 minutes! That is some feat! Have you had to make big sacrifices to do so? Does it help the understanding of it? Haven’t you had to lose loads?

“Cutting the play down for the adaptation was a tough but very rewarding project. I would recommend it as an exercise for anyone interested in discovering what the crux of a story is. Any line that isn’t vital to telling the story we want to tell is gone. It really is an adaptation—context has driven of our choices.

“Time constraints have meant we’ve had to lose popular characters like Dogberry, but the upside of this is that some of the other characters, like Margaret, Hero and Conrade have been given much more space to breathe and connect with various players. Our cast barely leave the stage.

“I don’t want to spoil things too much, but there’s a lot gender-swapping (in keeping with the theme), characters are elided, chronology is changed and dialogue re-purposed. I’ve had a lot of fun with it. Expect the unexpected is all I’ll say.”

How is working with Tilly Botsford and Grace Dickson as co-directors working? Do find three pairs of hands make light work?

“I would never describe directing Shakespeare as light work! But Tilly, Grace and I each bring our own strengths for sure. Our directorial arrangement feels in keeping with the democratisation of the text that has been a big part of our adaptation.

“It’s much more of an ensemble production than most versions of Much Ado, and to have many voices feeding in has helped enormously to open up the text. This includes the cast, who have guided the production along this path as much as any of us!”

How do you think this production differs from other adaptations of Much Ado?

“We are leaning into, rather than glossing over, some of the more uncomfortable moments in the play—we’re saying ‘no, stop, we can’t just pretend this no longer relevant to us. Because the events of the past year show us this is not the case it all.’

“Setting the play in the same place around 400 years later sets up a dramatic parallel I really like. It poses the question: how much have our attitudes to things like honour and sexuality really changed? Or have they just evolved into something we consider more palatable?

“Saying all this, the world of early 1980s Sicily is also just a blast to spend time in—fabulous fashion and iconic music all set amongst some beautiful, languid summer vibes.

“I think we truly have something for everyone…”

Much Ado About Nothing
theSpace @ Niddry St (Venue 9), Niddry Street, EH1 1TH
Monday 20 – Saturday 25 Aug 2018
Daily: 14:55 (1 hour)
Tickets and details:

Company website:
Facdebook: @eushakespeare.
Twitter: @EdUniShakeSoc.


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