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Reviewing ‘Lady Disdain’: A Y2K Dream Adaptation of 'Much Ado About Nothing’

The latest effervescent play from the King’s Shakespeare Company, Lady Disdain, is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing, set in the noughties and written by Eliza Cameron. I arrived on the opening night of the 6th of December at the Greenwood Theatre, which contained small groups of students huddled together in a mass of scarves and coats, ready to escape the realities of exam season into a Y2K dreamworld of Shakespeare.

Cast of 'Lady Disdain'. Photo by Elizabeth Grace.

The story follows a group of footballers arriving back home to the town’s pub, where they are reunited with the barmaids they developed friendships with prior to their departure. Things begin to entangle and intensify when Claudio develops interest in Hero; his mates are not keen to see him look towards marriage and begin to plot against their union. Amidst the chaos, Beatrice and Benedick begin a tumultuous and competitive insult hurling battle which develops more into love than hatred. It traces themes of female friendship, violent misogyny, and gossip culture in a deliciously gripping tale, utilising Shakespeare to function in an age of girl power with grit.

From the beginning, it was hard not to sing along to the playlist curated with music from the Spice Girls, Britney Spears and The Pussycat Dolls. A show set in the noughties could not be possible without the renowned fashion of its time; characters wore purple Juicy Couture, red tights, leopard print, and unapologetically hot pink football t-shirts. Filled with cheesy pop icons and flirty and fun fashion, the play clearly sent the audience into a fit of nostalgia from the open.

Cast of 'Lady Disdain'. Photo by Elizabeth Grace.

The word-of-mouth element of a Shakespeare play was executed with dialogue containing iconic slang; the show reveled in the modern Britishness of it all yet stayed true to the source material. The entire play uses a soap opera setting of a pub, referencing Eastenders, to further elicit drama yet keep it light and charming. The singular setting of a pub was utilised excellently, particularly in scenes where Beatrice and Benedick spy on conversations, hiding under tiny barstools and crawling underneath boxes humorously. It referenced the public, cultural, and political sphere of the noughties, yet personalised it within a private sphere of friends and foes.

References to lad culture and how this can mature into other fearful forms of intense misogyny and violent behaviour is played scarily well by Jack Aldridge as Claudio. Beginning as a bumblingly awkward and seemingly harmless man, his character develops into a villainous and disturbing figure conflicted with the female characters. With parallels and references to Kat Stratford of 10 Things I Hate About You, also a 2000s retelling of a Shakespeare play, Ava Robinson performs the character of Beatrice with fervour and strength. Alongside her, the himbo of the play Benedick, played by Bede Hodgkinson, transforms into an unseemingly likeable heartthrob of the story.

Cast of 'Lady Disdain'. Photo by Elizabeth Grace.

After the show, I chatted with the assiduous Eliza Cameron. It was evident just how much she wanted people to go and see a Shakespeare play, and that a modern retelling is a substantial route to do so. Cameron’s hard work and fervency for the play is evident by her writing the transcript over the summer and doodling personalised Groovy Chick’s on her iPad to advertise the production.

With its glittery and glam exterior, the second half of the performance begins to unravel deep discomfort within audience members as the true horrors of gossip and drama come into play. Bright-eyed and brilliant, Cameron and the members of the King’s Shakespeare Company are definitely ones to watch.

Keep up with more productions and news from the King’s Shakespeare Society’s Instagram here.


Edited by Georgia Gibson, Theatre Editor.


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