Hidden between the handbags and the kitchenware on the Lower Ground floor of a large Oxford Street department store is probably the last place you’d expect to find Shakespeare, but that’s just where The Faction theatre company are performing their Much Ado About Nothing. Selfridges have built a pop-up 122-seat reFASHIONed Theatre for the latest event in their Shakespearean summer. After six weeks of open rehearsals, Shakespeare’s comedy about two couples on bumpy journeys to matrimony is cut down to just ninety minutes without an interval and propelled into the 21st century.
The production isn’t quite as slick as the glossy black and neon theatre space. Pre-recorded video segments (starring none other than Royal Shakespeare Company alumni Meera Syal, Simon Callow and Rufus Hound) awkwardly break up the action and, in the rush to squeeze the show into an hour and a half, the plots – and some lines – feel hurried. But thankfully there’s a very talented cast to make up for these small shortcomings. Daniel Boyd’s cringe-inducing Benedick and Alison O’Donnell’s sassy Scottish Beatrice rightly steal the show, and strong support comes from Lowri Izzard’s childlike Hero, Harry Lister Smith as her naïve fiancé Claudio, and Tala Gouveia as a particularly expressive Margaret. Caroline Langrishe’s gender-swapped Leonata (Leonato in the original) adds an interesting dynamic to usually all-male scenes and this update is particularly powerful when Hero gets jilted at the altar.
Anyone who’s a fan of Selfridges’ extravagant windows will be well aware of their ability to blend art with advertising. With cameras flashing and the catwalk-like traverse stage covered with beautiful people in gorgeous clothes, the vibe is initially more fashion show than Shakespearean drama. Hero’s pleated guipure-lace mini dress is available from Womenswear upstairs for just £290, in case you were wondering. However, although it could have been gimmicky, The Faction’s Much Ado About Nothing is actually an enjoyable and unexpected evening. The contemporary setting allows the play to speak about love in the 21st century and while this point is never pushed too far Claudio’s plans to publicly [slut-]shame Hero feel genuinely shocking in a way they rarely can in period dress. Most of this is forgotten, of course, by the happy ending – a double marriage with some David Bowie thrown in for good measure. It’s a real treat to see accessible theatre pop-up inside Selfridges, but there’s also a bit of nuance to enjoy if you prefer your Shakespeare more than skin-deep.