Directed by artistic director Simon Godwin, Shakespeare Theatre Company will be presenting the Bard’s “Much Ado About Nothing” beginning on November 10. This play is probably one of the most finely honed comedies of Shakespeare. It is full of all the wonderful things we have been conditioned to enjoy about his plays. There are mistaken identities along with several masks and disguises. There is one of the best battles of the sexes ever. It has smart and resourceful women. There are scads of deception and villainy and there’s plenty of romance, too. Finally, if you did not know, “Nothing” refers to “noting,” or eavesdropping, which in this play leads to mayhem.
The cast includes Kate Jennings Grant as Beatrice and Rick Holmes as her verbal sparring partner, Benedick. Nicole King and Paul Deo, Jr. play the other two romantic roles, Hero and Claudio. Justin Adams plays the villain, Don John. In the comic roles of Ursula and Dogberry are Sarah Corey and Dave Quay. The rest of the fine cast includes Carl Albán, David Bishins, Cerra Cardwell, Michael Kevin Darnall, Nehassaiu de Gannes, Terrance Fleming, Edward Gero, Quinn M. Johnson, Raven Lorraine, Ryan Neely, Ring Yuqi Yang and Dina Thomas.
The play is being done in modern times, actually a television studio, so the set and costumes are not traditionally Elizabethan. Evie Gurney is the Costume Designer and part of the wonderful artistic team including Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge, Lighting Designer Donald Holder, Sound Designer Fan Zhang, and Projection Designer Aaron Rhyne.
Evie Gurney: INTERNATIONAL: National Theatre: “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Antony & Cleopatra;” The Old Vic: “The 47th;” Almeida Theatre: “The Hunt;” Dramaten (The Royal Dramatic Theatre of Sweden): “Måsen” and “The Seagull.” AWARDS: The Stage Debut Award (Best Designer). Before becoming a costume designer, Evie spent a decade working in the luxury fashion industry for brands including Ralph Lauren and Alexander McQueen. Training: Royal College of Art, London: MA in Curating Contemporary Art; Central Saint Martins, London: BA in Fashion. Instagram: @evieonfire. EvieGurney.com.
Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in London, but I live in Milan now with my husband who is Italian. I completed a BA in Fashion at Central Saint Martins and an MA in Curating Contemporary Art at The Royal College of Art, both in London.
You are doing this production in modern dress. How do you incorporate the feeling of Elizabethan times into your modern designs?
The short answer is—I don’t! Deciding on modern dress is a very deliberate way to emphasize the timelessness and universality of Shakespeare’s themes. “Much Ado About Nothing” is about celebrity, gossip, deception, betrayal, the foibles of human nature, and the transformative power of love. The emotions and actions don’t belong in another time and another world. They are as relevant today as they were when the play was written. Many of Shakespeare’s characters are archetypes and dressing them in modern clothing makes them immediately relatable. We recognize these people and I want my costumes to look so real that the actors could walk off stage onto F Street and blend right into the crowd.
I have always wondered if costumes in modern dress are made from “scratch” or do you purchase the items and alter them for the actors?
It depends on the item and the show. Some costumes need to made from scratch because they only exist in the designer’s imagination, Some costumes are easier to find but are given a bespoke fit and finish by our in-house drapers and stitchers. Some items, like uniform, have to come from specialist suppliers in order to look authentic. This version of “Much Ado About Nothing” is set in a television studio so there are certain conventions to follow to achieve that glossy corporate look and a lot of attention to detail.
You have worked in the theatre and the fashion industry. Which do you prefer and why?
It was definitely a choice after 15 years working in the fashion industry to try something new. I find theatre incredibly collaborative and inclusive. I love day one of rehearsals when I meet the actors for the first time and see the real people I’m going to be dressing. I will often spend the first week redesigning the show to better complement the actors that have been cast in each role. Also, the time scales are quite different. Developing a fashion collection takes months, in theatre you usually have 4-6 weeks, so you have to work on instinct and be decisive.
Do you have a favorite production for which you did the costume design and is there a play you would like to do in the future?
The first production I did as a costume designer was “Anthony & Cleopatra” at the National Theatre in London in 2018, also directed by Simon Godwin. I think that will always be my favorite because it was such a pivotal moment in my professional life. Sophie Okonedo was such a glamorous, gorgeous Cleopatra and I am forever grateful that I had the chance to start my career with that show.
I’m really interested in science fiction and I would love to design a show set in the future, or on another planet. I think it’s fascinating to see the evolution of fashion over time and how it reflects the societies that created it. I wonder in 50 or 500 years’ time, how we will express status, power and beauty through clothing? What cultural influences might dominate and how our clothing might have to adapt to changing environmental factors.
William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” will run from November 10 through December 11, 2022 at Shakespeare Theatre Company, Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20004. For more information and tickets, go to this link. MASK REQUIRED performances on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays and MASK RECOMMENDED performances on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.