Review: Guilt Trip5:14, 12th November 2018
Intermission Youth Theatre is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year with a production of Much Ado About Nothing, restyled under the new title Guilt Trip. It was the first time I’d seen one of IYT’s annual productions and I absolutely loved it.
A large part of the audience on this occasion was a local youth group, who really added something to the experience of watching it – because although they were a little rowdy at the beginning, they very quickly became completely engrossed in the characters and their situations – engaging more vocally in their responses than a ‘traditional’ audience might do, but all the better for it: It is testament to the performances and the newly devised script that Shakespeare’s work was so evidently accessible and enjoyable to an audience which might otherwise be expected to be disengaged.
Darren Raymond’s production, devised with the company by working scene by scene through the play and improvising each scenario in the cast’s own idiom, is set on the party island of Messina, where music producer Leon and the band he manages (including Don P, Benedick and Claudio) are staying in a hotel with Leon’s little sister Hero, her cousin Beatrice and their friends. Shakespeare’s plot is perfectly rendered in this new setting, and the comic performances are genuinely hilarious.
Perhaps the chief joy of this production is the seamless movement from modern street slang to Shakespeare’s original text, where some sentiments are paraphrased in the cast’s own language, and in other instances whole sections of the original dialogue are retained more or less intact. One minute Jermaine Adeniregun’s Benedick can be extolling the virtues of his ‘peng new creps’ and the next complaining that Beatrice ‘misused [him] past the endurance of a block’, and the whole flows together brilliantly, adding, in fact, to the comedy of the play.
Performances are excellent, with some stand-out moments including Don P (Sherkhan McKenzie-Riley)’s coaching of Claudio (Iain Gordon) on how to approach a potential ‘wifey’, and Jasz Brown’s great concern that language and behaviour should be appropriate because ‘we’re in a church!’ – which of course the theatre actually is: St Saviour’s in Knightsbridge. Danielle Adegoke’s ‘DJ’ (Don John: see what they did there) is also spectacularly deadpan in the midst of huge characters and exuberant performances, with some glorious put-downs and great comic timing.
Like all of Shakespeare’s plays, Much Ado poses some problems in the modern age: Hero’s disgracing is problematic not only because she is innocent, but also because the charge laid against her labels her ‘dirty’, and ‘damaged goods’, for having the temerity to be no longer a virgin on her wedding day. Expressed in these terms it is all the more shocking. Raymond’s production addresses head-on two big moral problems facing the youth of today: that of gender imbalance regarding expectations of promiscuity – specifically, double standards on the part of young men – and that of trial-by-social-media – something which really does lead to both murder and suicide in the London of today. Both issues are raised ever so slightly clumsily because they necessarily become rather contrived soap-box moments for the characters who address them. Nonetheless they are valuable ideas to express, and clearly resonated with every member of the audience and cast. In deference to the biggest discomfort a modern audience faces watching Much Ado, they’ve also changed the ending – and it works really well.
I highly recommend Intermission’s productions, and also staying for the TalkBack which they offer every night: a truly inspiring opportunity to hear from the actors themselves how the company has changed, turned around or even potentially saved their lives. As one cast member put it ‘if we weren’t here every week, in rehearsals, who knows where we’d be instead. These guys are my family. This is my escape. This is where I feel safe.’
Here is theatre at its most powerful and worthwhile.
Guilt Trip runs at St Saviour’s Church, Walton Place, London until 24 November 2018.