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Sunday Night Performance: An Afro-Futurist take on Shakespeare

30 March 2021

The Royal Shakespeare Company's spectacular new production of Much Ado About Nothing, set in an imagined futuristic world, launches BBC Arts' new Sunday Night Performance strand on 3 April at 8pm. Every week a different show from the worlds of theatre, dance, music and literature will be broadcast on BBC Four and BBC iPlayer, bringing brilliant culture direct to your screen.

Much Ado About Nothing | RSC (2022) | Photo by Ikin Yum (c)

BBC Radio 4 went Behind the Scenes to find out all about Roy Alexander Weise's groundbreaking take on the Shakespearean comedy.

Afro-Futurism for me is an opportunity to escape all of the lenses that have been placed on me thus far
Roy Alexander Weise

The director reimagines Much Ado About Nothing in an Afro-Futurist world, mixing science fiction and the cultures of the African diaspora.

For Weise, the audience’s unfamiliarity with the location allows for a fresh examination of a play that was written hundreds of years ago, revealing that the fundamental aspects of the human condition remain unchanged.

Weise said: "Afro-Futurism is a really broad umbrella under which people from the African diaspora are able to create alternative beginnings, alternative endings, and alternative middles to the stories that currently exist in the world.

"Afro-Futurism for me is an opportunity to escape all of the lenses that have been placed on me thus far."

Much Ado About Nothing | RSC (2022) | Photo by Ikin Yum (c)

Designer Melissa Simon-Hartman, acclaimed for her work on Beyoncé's Black Is King visual album, drew on her family's heritage for the costumes.

These costumes make me feel like I am superhuman
Akiya Henry

Simon-Hartman told Behind the Scenes that she took inspiration from characters like the Midnight Robber, who features in Trinidadian carnival.

She revealed: “The scale of expression that carnival takes really lends itself to Shakespeare’s expressive language”.

The colourful and extravagant costumes are a key component of this Afro-Futurist staging. Akiya Henry, who plays Beatrice, believes that wearing Simon-Hartman's designs gave her performance a huge boost.

She said: "These costumes make me feel like I am superhuman."

Much Ado About Nothing | RSC (2022) | Photo by Ikin Yum (c)

The show's composer and music producer, Femi Temowo, drew from his African heritage to add to the Afro-Futurist vision.

My father was a huge fan of Fela Kuti - so this is like second nature to me
Femi Temowo

He took inspiration from the celebratory, modern, west-African pop style of Afrobeats as well as Afrobeat, the genre pioneered by Nigeria's Fela Kuti.

In Behind the Scenes, Temowo reveals a deep personal connection to this music.

He said: "I come from a household where Afrobeat was very prevalent - my father was a huge fan of Fela Kuti. So this is like second nature to me."

Temowo also said it was extremely important to work with people who truly understood these musical genres.

He added: “African music often gets misappropriated and then those misappropriations are often celebrated more than the original things that they were taken from”.

Watch Much Ado About Nothing on BBC Four and iPlayer at 8pm on Sunday 3 April.

More amazing live performances streaming now on iPlayer

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