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Much Ado About Salsa review at Drayton Arms Theatre, London – ‘a flimsy update of Shakespeare’s comedy’

Jenny Biggs and Joanna O'Connor in Much Ado About Salsa at Drayton Arms Theatre, London
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Updating Shakespeare’s plays can be a tricky business, especially when it comes to placing archaic sexual politics into a modern setting.

Joanna O’Connor’s new play Much Ado About Salsa uses the lively romance between Beatrice and Benedick and the relationship between Leonato and his daughter Hero from Much Ado About Nothing as its basis. The references and names – Benedick is now Ben, Hero is now Faith – have been updated but the language maintains a formality, despite the production being set in modern-day Cadiz.

Shorn of the play’s sub-plots and secondary characters, the material feels pretty thin and the second act falls apart when easygoing Spaniard Leon suddenly turns on his daughter Faith, after she’s jilted at the altar by the unseen groom.

If you don’t know the source material well, O’Connor’s adaptation will be utterly baffling and it’s made even more peculiar by the inclusion of lots of self-conscious salsa dancing.

James Edwards’ Leon attempts a little audience interaction and provides a promising prologue, but the production soon loses momentum. The playwright makes a fairly decent Bea but James Kingdon’s Ben is not very believable as a modern career soldier, even of the officer class. Jenny Biggs’ Faith shows promise, but there’s little meat to her role.

The lack of a single director adds to the piece’s problems and the choreography lacks any genuine spark of passion. O’Connor’s idea is an interesting one but Summer Light Theatre needs to go back to the drawing board with this one and seek out a good dramaturg or an imaginative director to make it work.

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Flimsy update of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy that even salsa can’t enliven