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24 September 2014

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Sarah Parish as Beatrice, Billie Piper as Hero and Damian Lewis as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing

The Making of Much Ado About Nothing - page two

Diederick Santer is a producer for BBC Drama Series & Serials, where he produced the first three series of the hit hairdressing drama Cutting It. He has also worked as a script editor for Granada and for United Productions, where we worked on ITV series including The Last Train, Always and Everyone and the first two series of Where The Heart Is.

Here he describes the process of producing the BBC ONE updating of Much Ado About Nothing.

The script - part two

As soon as David said, "how about we have Beatrice and Benedick as the bickering co-anchors of a local TV news show?", Kate and I knew it could work. In Shakespeare's original, Beatrice and Benedick claim to hate one another. They argue and spar, driving each other to distraction. Of course, their friends know that the reason these characters wind each other up so much is that they are totally in love with one another, but are just too pig-headed and thick-skinned to realise it.

Kate and I could immediately visualise two charming, articulate but sometimes pompous, sometimes self-obsessed characters arguing on a TV news sofa. The setting worked in so many ways for the play (the 'overhearing' manipulations their friends set up, the power structure, the roles of Don John, Hero, Leonato and Claudio) and once David had finished work on his second novel (the brilliant 'The Understudy') he began on the script.

Often first draft scripts can be like an artist's preliminary sketches - a sense of the general shape, an idea of the theme and tone, and not much more - however on this occasion the script arrived fully-realised. David had mined Shakespeare's play for everything he could, then created his own world, his own tone and humour, and made something truly new and fresh.

He made his characters work on their own terms, and so my greatest fear - that Much Ado would be meaningless to people who didn't know the play - proved groundless. But he kept enough of the play for those people who do know it well to - hopefully - enjoy the game of spotting the similarities and differences, the points where David has gone with Shakespeare's ideas and stories, the places where he's gone his own way.

The only significant problem with the script was that it was too long - we were aiming for a ninety minute slot, and this script was more like two hours. So, we began the painful process of cutting it down to size. In each redraft David cut another ten or so pages from the script, and another great set of character and comedy moments went (although miraculously, every time he also managed to slip more jokes back in). Days before filming we were still cutting scenes. And we shot ten minutes that we never used.


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