Actors from the London Stage present Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing

The touring troupe Actors from the London Stage (AFTLS) performed Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at Washington Hall on January 26, 27, and 28.

Though sometimes confused with the student-run Not-So-Royal Shakespeare Company or the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, the Actors from the London Stage is a troupe of five professional UK actors based at Notre Dame who tour American universities performing some of the Bard’s most cherished plays.

With only five actors, each one commits to playing multiple roles, distinguishing between personas with props and mannerisms. In this weekend’s rendition, for example, actor William Donaldson alternated between his four roles of Claudio, Antonio, Borachio, and Margaret. Initially, it might seem unfathomable that five actors can execute a play with complex characters, plotlines, sets, and props. But, in their own words, “the AFTLS company ethos and mission is simplicity at its finest. Five actors take the stage, with minimal props and costumes, and direct themselves in a performance of a complete Shakespeare play, with each actor portraying multiple roles.” Indeed, with this minimalist approach, AFTLS’s performance of Much Ado About Nothing was nothing short of a revelry of warmth, laughter, and striking insights into social relationships.

Susannah Monta, Associate Professor of English at Notre Dame, thought highly of how the five actors made Much Ado come alive in a fashion quite loyal to Shakespeare’s original text. Monta highlighted that, contrary to “full-scale modern productions,” the AFTLS’s minimalist approach allows them “to be focused tightly on Shakespeare’s language and on the interactions of characters in a particular moment.”

Monta sees this as closer to Shakespeare’s original performances than most contemporary renditions. With respect to how one actor portrays multiple characters, Monta noted aptly how the duality present in Annabelle Terry’s tremendous performances of Beatrice and Don John illumines the “dark side” of Shakespeare’s mostly jovial comedy. As Terry moved back and forth from lead female protagonist to villain, one moves from “sparkling wit and talkativeness” to, “the other brooding and taciturn.” Finally, Monta noted that the ending epitomizes marriage as that “emblem of social harmony.”

Much Ado, along with many Shakespearean comedies, begins in calm stasis, moves towards discord at its midpoint, and ends in reconciliation or rebirth. In this fashion, Much Ado begins with the military men of Don Pedro, his villainous brother Don John, Benedick, and others taking refuge in Messina. Hence, two romances ensue.

Claudio and Hero represent the chivalrous yet simple. After first seeing Hero, Claudio immediately professes his love for her, and she innocently requites.

On the other hand, Benedick and Beatrice vaguely suggest that there has been past romantic involvement through continuous verbal sparring. Throughout the play, they duel with “paper bullets of the brain,” hilariously and flirtatiously insulting each other.

In a moment of situational irony, the friends of Benedick and Beatrice trick them into professing their love for one another. These friends gossip about Benedick’s love for Beatrice, and Beatrice’s love for Benedick, while knowing that the other is listening in hiding. In so doing, they cause Benedick and Beatrice to realize their own love for each other, and they resoundingly profess it in one of the play’s most memorable moments.

As Benedick and Beatrice’s love thickens, the love between Claudio and Hero dissipates because of Don John, who mischievously sows the doubt in Claudio’s mind that Hero is adulterous. The watchmen Dogberry and Verges—hilariously embodying Shakespeare’s classic wise fool—find out about Don John’s scheming and investigate and put forth charges against the evildoers.

Once these lies are revealed, we are left with two merrily engaged couples––Benedick and Beatrice, Claudio and Hero will seemingly live happily ever after. Don Pedro, the lone good man left without a partner, is told to “Get thee a wife!” And, thus, the play closes with the resounding belief that “man is a giddy thing” as trumpets and revelry fill the air.

Indeed, Notre Dame’s students and faculty have the great privilege of seeing the first iterations of these performances before AFTLS travels to other universities.

Don Pedro’s villainy and Claudio’s spiteful insults against Hero’s character reveal the evil underbelly present even in the warmest of Shakespeare’s comedies. Ultimately, though, by ending the play with music and the resounding proclamation, “man is a giddy thing,” Shakespeare reminds us of a fundamental facet of human society––that, despite the wounds of distrust, wrath, and selfishness we all too often inflict onto ourselves, love and friendship are possible and indeed worth celebrating.

Luke Stringfellow is a senior majoring in PLS from Pensacola, FL. He believes that Paul Thomas Anderson is undoubtedly the greatest living director and can be reached at

Photo credit: Shakespeare at Notre Dame