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"Truly remarkable" integration of accessibility in Much Ado About Nothing at Sheffield Theatres

Captions, in-built audio description and BSL integrated into the production made Much Ado About Nothing even more accessible to the audience, says Paul Szabo.

The full company of performers are line dancing and are all dressed in Country and Western clothing. There are colourful lights and people lift their arms in the air as they dance.

The Company of Much Ado About Nothing

Johan Persson

September can only mean one thing: the commencement of Sheffield Theatre’s autumn season and their traditional Shakespearean opener. This year, audiences are being treated to one of the Bard’s most beloved, funny and accessible plays, Much Ado About Nothing. But this time around, Shakespeare’s take on the rom-com is made even more accessible by an innovative co-production with Ramps on the Moon, which places disabled and neurodiverse actors and creatives at the heart of the production and utilises integrated accessibility methods, including British Sign Language, spoken English, audio description and captioning, to ensure that the production is accessible to disabled and non-disabled audience members alike

Love is in the air, as Don Pedro brings his victorious band of soldiers to the home of Leonato, where newly promoted general, Claudio, falls madly in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero, and after a little meddling from Don Pedro, the two soon become engaged.

Meanwhile, confirmed bachelor, Benedick, exchanges sharp words with Beatrice, a clear denouncer of love, who quips that she would “rather hear a dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me”.

In the days leading to the wedding of Claudio and Hero, the guests embark on a plan to trick Beatrice and Benedick into falling in love with each other, whilst behind the fun and frivolities, a more sinister plan is behind hatched by Don Pedro’s sister Donna Joanna, who seeks to disgrace Hero and scupper the wedding plans.

Three actors lie face down on massage tables whilst three other actors massage them and one actor is interpreting the speech in sign language. The three on the table are talking to each other and all wear white robes.

Members of the Company of Much Ado About Nothing

Johan Persson

Director Robert Hastie wrings plenty of comedy moments out of the script, albeit it with a few liberties taken to depart from the original text including describing a love poem as being “a little top shelf”, and by adding in a comedic moment of Deaf woman signing to a blind man, done with a tongue planted firmly in the cheek and with a knowing nod to the audience.

These comedy moments nestle into the original text, which remains wonderfully fun and immensely sharp; nowhere more evident than in the quick-witted, fast-paced and delightfully barbed exchanges between Beatrice and Benedick about the woes of love and their disdain for each other.

Guy Rhys bounces playfully alongside an excellent Daneka Etchells as the sparring partners, mixing their comedy and light-heartedness with sufficient gravitas to gather the audience behind them. Laura Goulden bounds around the stage with tremendous energy and aplomb as the meddling Margaret, Dan Parr charmed as Don Pedro and Benjamin Wilson thinly veils his character’s more sinister traits with some perfectly timed comedy. However, stealing the scenes was Richard P. Peralta, who has a simply beautiful singing voice and a genuine stage presence.

The production overall is competent and functional without ever being dazzling, however modernising the play’s setting to a summer house, having a full blown hoedown and throwing in a spa day helps to keep the presentation fresh. But it is the integration of accessibility into the performance that really elevates this production. Having one actor speak to another who replies in British Sign Language, having a constant run of captions, and building in audio descriptions into the production make this a truly remarkable experience.

Much Ado About Nothing is a terrific play with some laugh-out-loud moments and wonderful diversity, which was represented not only the cast, but also the audience members too.

Learn more

You can find details of Sheffield Theatres access policy here. You can also read our interview with Benjamin Wilson about diversity and the needs of disabled actors and audiences here.

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