Tag Archives: Much Ado About Nothing

Playwright Spotlight: William Shakespeare

20 Apr

I have said somewhere on this blog that I was averse to Shakespeare because no matter how hard I tried, I can’t seem to understand his plays.

I had been to the Bard’s hometown in Stratford-upon-Avon, and my intimate relationship with the man was the souvenir fridge magnet and The Little Book of Shakespeare quotes. My first exposure to his work was the 2004 film adaptation of The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino as Shylock. It was my young friend Bizarro who convinced me to watch the film, although I didnt need much convincing as Pacino was a good enough reason to give it a try. The experience wasnt too bad at all, I actually really liked that version and was really moved by the events that transpired. But there was still no yearning desire to follow through.

I have had discussions with friends who loved Shakespeare’s work and it wasnt until a work colleague and friend, who’s also a huge theatre afficionado said to me late last year that Shakespeare’s plays are meant to be watched more than read. I was quite keen on watching Ian McKellen in King Lear so I bit the bullet and booked the RSC’s production last year and was gobsmacked by it. The Arden adaptation which came as a gift from the same friend helped eased the pain in understanding the language. I had wanted to book the Donmar’s Othello but I was one of those who were trying to book tickets all day only to be told it has sold out.

So from watching a highly distressing and tragic Lear I moved onto another Shakespeare production, this time the light hearted Much Ado About Nothing staged at the Olivier’s National for their winter offering and boy did that feel good too. Having enjoyed myself so much I bought the play text in the National bookshop and finished reading it the same evening. Since then I have joined the RSC as associate member and I am now looking forward to the staging of Hamlet, Love’s Labours Lost when it comes to the West End at the end of the year, and the Donmar West End’s Twelfth Night. The Regents Park Open Air Theatre productions for the season includes a hefty serving of the Bard with Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, and A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and then of course you’ve got the Globe Theatre with King Lear, Timon of Athens and The Merry Wives of Windsor. There’s also A Winter’s Tale to look forward to in Spring 2009 as part of The Bridge Project and there’s also the RSC Histories currently running at the Roundhouse that got sold out by the time I wanted to book tickets.

So what’s the verdict for Shakespeare? To quote Simon Russell Beale in an interview for Much Ado About Nothing, he said, he’s just the best. I have only seen 2 productions so far but I will have to agree with him. Does the Doctor Who Season 3 Shakespeare Code episode count? I wish!

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Theatre Review: Much Ado About Nothing

17 Mar

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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.

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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.