Much Ado About Nothing
By William Shakespeare
The Globe Theatre, London
Saturday 3rd May 2014, 14.00
Directed by Max Webster
There are days at The Globe, sunny Southwark afternoons with a vibrant performance, ending with that spontaneous audience shout of acclaim when the whole open-air concept makes sense, and this was one.
Stage before the show
Much Ado About Nothing may be one of the most popular comedies of all, but I had seen a run of failed productions, until this one. It’s something you feel in the warm glow of a great show: I don’t think this Benedick, Beatrice, Claudio or Hero can ever be bettered. Matched perhaps, but not exceeded.
The context is stripped down touring company, in modern dress. Good to see the blue military uniforms making it clear that Don Pedro, Don John, Claudius and Benedick are officers, brothers-in-arms. A cast of eight, five men, three women, doing the whole play. This means a huge boost in sheer esprit de corps amongst a tight cast. Did they actually make that costume change? Is the same actor really doing two or three such unrelated parts, as a different gender? Are they really doubling the bearded Leonato with the gentlewoman, Ursula? Is Beatrice actually doubling with Verges? Don John with Dogberry? Hero with the villain Conrade? Oh, yes, all of them. And Don Pedro is a dab hand at mandolin, Hero at piano accordion and Don John and Claudio keep it going with rhythm guitar.
Benedick (Simon Bubb)
It’s full on sheer energy. Benedick and Beatrice were always major roles (beloved of major stars), and here Simon Bubb as Benedick, and Emma Pallant as Beatrice could not have been cast nor played better. Both were hilarious. Line after line got fresh weight, fresh pausing, new comedy.
Claudio was a furious bridegroom, throwing Hero across the stage onto the floor. Physical acting was great … Don Pedro (JimKitson) doubles as the second watchman, and rolls off the stage and falls three feet; Benedick has business with a collapsing chair, we see why Beatrice has a head cold in the second half. Don’t even mention the incidents with the box of oranges nor the washtub full of water. We are reminded that the best bits of the play are Benedick and Beatrice hiding, listening to the deceits. These two are constantly moving. OK, the washing line has been done before for Beatrice, but it is still perfect as a hiding place. Benedick hides all over the stage.
Beatrice (Emma Pallent) and Leonato (Robert Pickovance)
Praise for the constant awareness of the cast about the blocking effect of those big Globe pillars. We were right at the side, but they never let themselves be obscured from any angle for more than a second or two. Here wasa production that had studied the sightlines.
Audience participation was excellent, from Hero throwing oranges into the audience or Benedick appealing directly to a fair woman, a wise woman, a virtuous woman.
Don Pedro (mandolin) and Beatrice (Emma Pallent)
There are necessary compromises, inevitably when Joy Richardson is quadruple as the Messenger, Margaret, Borachio and Friar Francis. Virtually the entire cast opens the second half as the watch, with Chris Starkie as a Scots-accented, flying helmeted Dogberry. We lose some of that lugubrious humour of the part, but given the pace of the production, they coudn’t have gone with an ageing idiotic Dogberry. It needs to maintain pace. The plotters, Borachio and Conrade, are played by Gemma Lawrence (Hero) and Joy Richardson, so two women playing men as the villains, but it works, and the concept of them “tied up” being wheeled around on sack trucks by the watch is a good one. I would say that their explanation of how they set up Hero on the balcony has to be already known, as the antics of the members of The Watch observing them caused such gales of laughter that it was drowned out. Cutting out Leonato’s older brother Antonio worked easily … his early scene is given to Margaret (who takes over his later lines too) and the humour of the masked dance scene stays, he is simply replaced by Leonato who can also be referred to as an older man.
Dogberry (Chris Starkie) & Verges (Emma Pallent again!)
After last year’s dreadful and misguided Old Vic geriatric take on the play, this Globe production, stripped down and doubled, trebled and quadrupled as it is, restores the play to its comic pre-eminence. Great direction, casting and performance. So much so, that our first thought on coming out was to check where it’s touring so that we can see it again.
Unequivocal five stars.
OTHER VERSIONS OF MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING ON THIS BLOG:
Much Ado About Nothing, The Old Vic, 2013 with James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave
JOSS WHELDON’S film version: