Joss Whedon likes to mix things up. Many of his most celebrated episodes on the small screen were experiments in form: Buffy’s musical and silent episodes; Angel’s ballet takeover; Firefly’s existentially tinged finale.
So it’s no surprise that he chose to leap straight off principal photography on the gargantuan Avengers Assemble onto a shoestring Shakespeare adap – nor that the result should be such a witty and emotionally charged joy.
Much Ado is one of the Bard’s more accessible works to begin with, swapping out rhyming verse for spiky back-and-forth between original love-hate couple Beatrice and Benedick (respectively played by Angel alums Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof).
Whedon’s speedy 12-day shoot adds a crackle of spontaneity to a plot that’s all about misunderstandings and machinations: Don John (Sean Maher) plots to tear apart young couple Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz), but Bea and Bene intervene, finding their own cynicism about romance challenged along the way.
Whedon fans will be familiar with his tradition of hosting Shakespeare readings for actor pals, and his love for and knowledge of the text shine through.
His scant alterations only deepen – a briefly glimpsed erotic past adds aching layers to Acker and Denisof’s compulsive chemistry – while his command of the shooting space (his own California home) allows for slapstick manoeuvring and resourceful flourishes.
It’s no revelation that Shakespeare travels well, but it’s startling just how fresh and fizzy this is – and all topped off by Whedon’s worth-a-whole-listen commentary.
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