Much Ado About Hero
17th October 2017
Lexi Clare, the producer, writer and star of this venture is a force to be reckoned with, and a welcome arrival on the British theatre scene. The inspiration and driving force behind an extraordinary festival of new writing by women at Theatre N16’s home at the capacious Bedford pub in Balham, her Maiden Speech Festival, she seizes the chance to shine with a keynote piece, a work she has written in response to centuries’ worth of received opinion regarding one of Shakespeare’s most irritating drips, the (apparently) limp victim of Don John’s toxic shenanigans in Shakespeare’s ever-popular family romp, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’.
The opening is masterful: Clare presents herself as a kind of Sam Spade – or Arletty – in trenchcoat, full of deadpan humour and dry-as-an-extra-dry-martini one-liners, in a 15-minute monologue that brilliantly destroys hundreds of years’ worth of stereotyping and vividly refashions one of the least known, and least admired of Shakespeare’s female characters. This section is worth the price of the ticket alone. Riding the crest of the wave of her intellect, humour and theatrical genius, you are thrilled to be in at the start of what could – surely – be a very wonderful career indeed. It is rare to come across a performer with this much imagination and ability to make the audience see the very familiar through entirely new eyes.
After this sensational overture, however, it is as if Clare’s nerve slightly deserts her, and she falls back into presenting a ‘conventional’ feminine Hero, complete with floral print long frock and ruched muslin sleeves. For a moment, one expects her to subvert this image, but no; she launches into a fairly predictable recounting of the plot and the main speeches of the play. While of some use as a revision tool for GCSE students, this is a bit of a disappointment, and one probably not lost on Clare, who, it would not surprise me to discover, may subsequently dispense with such material and choose instead to focus on her own terrific mind and theatrical sense of what works well. She is, after all, not trying to be a one-woman Reduced Shakespeare Company: she has more to tell us than that. A lot more.
Alongside her progress, Amy Le Rossignol (also on keyboards) provides music for some lyrics of Clare’s own creation: these are appealing numbers, but as yet perhaps not quite as well developed as the spine of the production. One hopes that the experience of sharing this first version with the public at Balham will strengthen the resolve of the writer-performers to develop their work further: it is not difficult to imagine it turning into a strong contender for the festival circuit, and may well push their careers even more vigorously than that. This was a memorable debut and I count myself very fortunate to have been present at it. I shall watch out – with great interest – for more work coming from the inestimable talents of Ms Clare and Co.