Much Ado About Nothing
(Love’s Labour’s Won)
By William Shakespeare
Royal Shakespeare Company
Directed by Christopher Luscombe
Designed by Simon Higlett
Music by Simon Hess
Chichester Festival Theatre
Monday 17th October 2016, 7.30
This production is a revival of the 2014 / 2015 production, reviewed elsewhere on this blog.
bold indicates a change from the 2014 RSC Stratford production. The adverts all said Lisa Dillon was replacing Michelle Terry.
Steven Pacey – Leonato
John Arthur – Antonio, his brother
Rebecca Collingwood – Hero, Leonato’s daughter
Lisa Dillon – Beatrice, Leonato’s niece
Harry Waller – Balthasar, Antonio’s son
Emma Manton – Margaret, Lady’s maid to Hero
Paige Carter – Ursula, Lady’s maid to Beatrice
Chris Nayak – Borachio, a footman
Nick Harris – Butler
Anna Wheatley – Housemaid
John Hodgkinson – Prince Don Pedro
Sam Alexander – Don John, his brother
Edward Bennett – Benedick, an officer
Tunji Kasim – Count Claudio
William Belchambers – Conrade
Jamie Tyler – Dispatch rider
Nick Haverson – Dogberry, a constable
Roderick Smith – Verges, deputy constable
Peter McGovern – George Seacoal
Jamie Tyler – Hugh Oatcake
Nick Harris – Francis Pickbone
Chris McCalphy – Sexton
Jamie Newall – Friar Francis
See also the review of the original RSC 2014 production at Stratford. There will be a degree of repetition.
This Monday was one of a few special arranged performances where you could see the play paired with Love’s Labour’s Lost with the same cast in the same day. Love’s Labour’s Lost takes place in 1914, just before World War One, and Much Ado About Nothing takes place in 1918, the Christmas just after the war ended. It is opportune … the ending of Love’s Labour’s Lost sets up the separation. With Much Ado About Nothing the plot point of soldiers returning from a war is made to fit the join.
At Stratford two years ago they annoyed some scholars by titling the second play Love’s Labour’s Won claiming that Much Ado About Nothing was that lost play. The programme states the case here too. The pair of lovers, the reliance on a masked party in both, the separation in the first play, resolved by the joining in the second. I’m sufficiently convinced, but this year they’ve reversed the brackets and put Much Ado About Nothing as the main title. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
The masked party scene
The Sunday Times gave Love’s Labour’s Lost 5 stars, yet only 4 stars for this. I totally disagree. Both productions are of equal quality, and to me the intrinsic play in Much Ado has light and also shade, and shade is missing from Love’s Labour’s Lost. In particular Beatrice is a much more interesting role for Lisa Dillon. She does it differently to Michelle Terry, and it’s a matter of each expressing their own personality and appearance within the role, but Beatrice is a perfect role for Lisa Dillon… perhaps seeing her as Katherine in Taming Of The Shrew in 2012 influences me, in that the Benedick-Beatrice dynamic is a more pleasant version of the Petruchio-Katherine dynamic. On the party / mask scene she plays very slightly inebriated to good effect.
Beatrice (Lisa Dillon) and Benedick (Edward Bennett). She has been sent to summon him to dinner … with a loud gong.
Perhaps the two funniest scenes are such a shock, so huge, that the second viewing inevitably loses an element, though I still virtually had tears running down my face. The first is when Benedick is supposed to hear the three plotters, Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio, talking about how much Beatrice loves him. It’s intrinsically one of the funniest scenes in the Complete Works, and it’s funny without having a Fool or Clown rolling out puns incessantly. Here it involves a huge Christmas tree for Benedick to hide in, ending in a problem with the tree lights and near electrocution. I won’t spoil it. Steven Pacey’s Leonato is delightfully hesitant, obviously unable to improvise an account of Beatrice’s supposed devotion, much to the annoyance of Don Pedro. I haven’t seen that brought out so well in other versions. Steven Pacey is also in top form as the outraged father, then the father in tears at the end of the wedding scene.
I thought they added business to the subsequent scene of Beatrice overhearing Hero and Ursula talking about Benedick’s love for her. I found it much funnier with Lisa Dillon. However, I will admit that last time in 2014 at Stratford, it paled so much compared to the Christmas Tree “overhearing” scene, but having seen the Christmas Tree already, I was more open to the nuances of Beatrice’s overhearing scene.
The Sexton scene: Dogberry seated right with cup. Borachio in scarf. Conrade in evening dress.
The other classic in the production is the two plotters being taken before the sexton. This is done in an imaginary confined space. Nick Haverstock’s Constable Dogberry does the finest piece of extended slapstick / silent film acting I’ve seen, but the whole is beautifully plotted. Chris Nayak, as Borachio, makes it even funnier by managing to maintain a straight face with an expression of disdain amidst all the mayhem with buckets, flat irons, dog bowls, tea pots. At one point they realize they can’t get out because of the imaginary tight space and try to turn the table and chairs, ending back where they started.
Dogberry (Nick Haverson) berates Verges (Roderick Smith). George Seacoal (Peter McGovern) looks on.
I saw a note that “Dogberry is the funniest clown in Shakespeare” … this production proves it.
The Wedding: L to R: Beatrice (Lisa Dillon), Hero (Rebecca Collingwood), Friar Francis (Jamie Newall) and Leonato (Steven Pacey)
However, where the play leaps into the stratosphere is that they manage to get genuine drama and tension into the “unfunny” bits. The reactive acting in the wedding scene, where Claudio falsely accuses Hero, is a case in point. You can see how troubled Benedick is from the outset. And you see how horrified Beatrice is. In the same way, the scene where Beatrice tells Benedick “Kill Claudio” is usually a big laugh. Here, not so. She means it. He really is upset at the prospect. Edward Bennett has an uncanny ability to switch from serious and angry, to romantic, to flat out comedy interaction with winks and nods to the audience at a Frankie Howard level of expertise.
Beatrice (Lisa Dillon) and Benedick (Edward Bennett) dressed for Hero’s “funeral”
Sam Alexander as Don John has few lines (as he says at the start, he is a man of few words), but he manages to load them with genuine nastiness. When the soldiers arrive back after the war, he has a crutch and a bandaged lower leg, and is pale. His injury fuels his jealousy of his brother, the Prince Don Pedro and his jealousy of the handsome Claudio. It utilises the Richard III / Hunchback of Notre Dame “cripple as villain” but that is a tradition, I guess.
As with the first play, Sam Hess’s music simply sounds better in the Chichester Festival Theatre acoustic, and yes, I was singing the theme all the way home.
What a privilege to see Bennett and Dillon together. They interact so well, that I hope a canny director is thinking perhaps it’s time for a new production of The Taming Of The Shrew built around them.
Benedick and Beatrice: the end of the play
5 stars, *****
(Repeated in Love’s Labour’s Lost review)
Chichester describes its stage as thrust in the programme. It has most of the virtues of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST), though the diagonal entrances from the house are up steps so less “taken at a run.’ The RST thrust is a rectangle with the short side at the inner stage end. Chichester is not quite a semi circle. It’s as fluid, though not so intimate. However the seats are far more comfortable and there are no “restricted view” pillars nor “restricted legroom.” It changes the play somewhat. We had good seats for both, but because the travel of the inner stage out onto the thrust ends up further back at the RST, some scenes felt closer at Chichester, allowing the fine detail of the set to shine. The proximity to the front was very noticeable in the roof scene (and welcome). Even the edge of the stage is lined with Elizabethan-style brick to match the towers. On the other hand, Chichester is lower, so the tower roofs touch the ceiling and are not so framed by blue sky as at the RST.
FOR THE FUTURE …
This production goes to Manchester Opera House, then to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket for a long London run. It’s where the RSC’s Wolf Hall ended up. As the RSC also uses the Barbican, the use of Chichester’s stage and Manchester is so welcome in this country of London-centric theatre. It worked too … both houses were virtually full, and on a Monday, and it’s a larger audience than the RST in the most comfortable theatre of the lot. It slotted in at the end of the main Festival Theatre Season. Let’s hope the same idea will continue with other RSC productions.
A combined programme for the two plays is economic. While I don’t need a synopsis of these two plays, the RSC’s very short clear synopses are a great feature of all RSC programmes. Why have they dropped them here?
LINKS TO REVIEWS ON THIS SITE:
OTHER PRODUCTIONS OF MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING reviewed on this blog:
Much Ado About Nothing, The Old Vic, 2013 with James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave
Much Ado About Nothing, The Globe 2014
Love’s Labour’s Won RSC 2014
JOSS WHELDON’S film version:
Much Ado About Nothing, film, 2013
All of the cast are In Love’s Labour’s Lost, Chichester 2016
Watership Down, 2016
The Rehearsal, by Jean Anouilh, Chichester Minerva Theatre
Love’s Labour’s Lost– RSC 2014 (Berowne)
Love’s Labour’s Won RSC 2014 (Benedick)
The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Bath Theatre Royal