Stunning pictures help launch RSC's new production in Stratford
Striking costumes and a big-hearted comedy are promised when Much Ado About Nothing opens at the RSC on 4th February.
This week the company released promotional artwork for the production, as well as behind-the-scenes images of the shoot.
The artwork is created by Àsìkò, a UK-based Nigerian conceptual artist, and features the two leads, Michael Balogun and Akiya Henry, who play Benedick and Beatrice.
The pair are pictured in costumes designed by Melissa Simon-Hartman, a London-based artist, couture fashion designer whose West African and West Indian-inspired designs featured in videos for Beyonce’s Black Is King, her 2020 ‘video album’, devised as a companion to the latest Lion King film.
Acting artistic director Erica Whyman told the Herald that although staging Much Ado About Nothing disrupted the ongoing run-through of the canon, she thought the time seemed right to put it on.
She explained: “We really wanted to have a big heart-warming comedy in the programme because I think we all need that. Roy Alexander Weise is directing, I know Roy well and I am a big admirer of his work. He is setting it in a kind of Afro-futuristic world very colourful full of invention and technology and a complete world in which romance is easy then it isn’t. It is very exciting.”
Dressed in opulent gold tribal wear and staring lovingly at one another, the latest Benedick and Beatrice are certainly appear a break from the norm in the artwork.
Àsìkò commented: “For me, the image was about celebrating new interpretations of the beloved Shakespeare characters using inspirations of Afrofuturism ideology. It is also a joy to bring the aesthetic of my African identity into a visual story as it celebrates my heritage and the amazing diversity that exists in the UK. Through the process of creating the work I sought to hybridise the English and African aspects of my heritage which is a common theme that flows through my work as an artist. Working with Roy, Melissa and the creative team was a great collaborative experience, the kind we as visual artists strive for in our journey.”
The show will run in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from 4th February to 12th March 2022. Also in the cast are: Toyin Ayedun-Alase (Verges), Micah Balfour (Don John), Rebecca Banatvala (Seacole), Michael Joel Bartelle (Sexton), Mensah Bediako (Antonio), Christelle Elwin (Messenger), DK Fashola (Friar), Kevin N Golding (Leonato), Karen Henthorn (Dogberry), Aruna Jalloh (Oatcake), Sapphire Joy (Margaret), Curtis Kemlo (Borachio), Denver-Isaac Kwashe (Conrade), Mohammed Mansaray (Claudio), Taya Ming (Hero), Ann Ogbomo (Don Pedra), Luke Wilson (Balthasar) and Adeola Yemitan (Ursula).
Set design is by Jemima Robinson, and the production will also feature an original score by Nigerian-born British guitarist and MOBO award-nominated musician Femi Temowo whose past collaborators include Amy Winehouse, Dee Dee Bridgewater, The Roots and Soweto Kinch.