Plot: Don Pedro of Aragon, commander of the Spanish army in Sicily, returns to Messina after a victory against rebel forces which included his brother, Don John. Now reconciled with Don John, and in the company of his Italian comrades Claudio and Benedick, Don Pedro accepts the hospitality of Leonato, the Governor of Messina. A marriage is quickly arranged between Hero, daughter of Leonato, and Claudio. Don Pedro resolves to fill the time before the wedding by tricking Benedick into marriage with his old sparring partner Beatrice, Leonato’s niece. Don John, still simmering with resentment, meanwhile plots to destroy Claudio’s faith in Hero.
“I do love nothing in the world so well as you, is not that strange?” – Benedick to Beatrice
Oy!!! It seems like my initial dislike for Shakespeare is clearly unfounded now having seen 2 of his plays and coming out enjoying them. With a tragedy that was King Lear, which left me in tears, Much Ado About Nothing on the other hand, left me in stitches. This Shakespeare romantic comedy may have been written circa 1600, but even in our modern times, it still resonates the same realities that befall our main protagonists, Benedick and Beatrice. I may sound really biased here but this production is owned by both Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanamaker. Their wonderful and mischievous attack on their characters were spot on and was a delight to watch. Not having the pleasure of reading the play yet, I initially thought that Russell Beale and Wanamaker were rather older than their stage counterparts, but this is where I think Hytner’s gamble paid off. It’s because even more so now, there are actually more single people whether by choice or circumstance, and most are probably already in their middle age and can easily relate to the joys of singlehood and/or the curse of it.
I thought Benedick’s mockery of Beatrice when they had their first encounter was delightful, “what my Lady Disdain, are you yet living?”, but you can feel that these two are really in love with each other and just would not accept that fact, this time around though, they would need a little help from their friends. And some of us have experienced that. We loved someone, then for some reason they’ve wronged us and we lose them, and if their really not some big time loser who is mentally abusive, or with no real red flags waving in the air, sometimes an old love can be that someone who is our equal, that one person who is a match for you, that you can not love no one else but him, or her, and this is really what Benedick was for Beatrice and vice versa. You just know they had to end up together and so we watch them how.
One of the most comical parts of the play was Benedick eavesdropping on his comrades discussing how Beatrice really loves him and we see an amused but giddy looking Benedick tiptoeing, avoiding the pond which he eventually falls into and in a quick soliloquy, incredulously asks, Love me? But why? Beatrice follows the same fate after overhearing Hero (Sussanah Fielding) talking about Benedick’s own passions for her. But it’s the scene after Hero has been spurned by Claudio (Daniel Hawksford) that Benedick comes to comfort a distraught Beatrice and asks her, “and how do you?” Beatrice replies, “very ill too”. And Benedick, with a look of love and devotion tells her, “serve God, love me and mend”. Awwwwww!!!
Russell Beale again played against type for he may not be a swaggering kind of Benedick but in my books I loved the way he made Benedick real. Coming out of that pond, soaking wet but elated knowing that Beatrice might still just be in love with him and then he tries to walk erect striking a pose as if some cool, sexy cat really brought the house down. he is such a sweetheart. Wanamaker complemented his performance by allowing us to feel her world-weary Beatrice, showing us the pain of being alone and her masked vulnerability but despite this she remains a strong-willed, independent woman nevertheless that is admirable.
The supporting cast did just great, I thought Mark Addy as Dogberry and Trevor Peacock as Verges provided great comical relief. Rachel Portman’s music (with special mention to Thomas Goodridge playing the role of Balthasar who sung beautifully in his scenes perfectly) evoked the mood and aura of this part of Italy, and Vicki Mortimer’s beautiful set design complimented Nicholas Hytner’s great and fantastic revival of this sweet Shakespearean play.
Much Ado About Nothing: 5/5
Playing at the National Theatre until March 29.