A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

 

Much Ado About Nothing

 

Eve Best (Beatrice) and Charles Edward (Benedick)

Photo by Manual Harlan

 

by William Shakespeare


Directed by Jeremy Herrin


Shakespeare’s Globe


23 May – 1 October 2011

 

Much Ado About Nothing at The Globe is a serious romp. Considered one of Shakespeare’s scintillating comedies, with its elements of knockabout humour and verbal dexterity, it is also a reflection on honour, both public and private, and court etiquette.

Claudio loves Hero, but Beatrice and Benedick are love’s true antagonists. A plot to undermine Claudio puts love and honour in serious jeopardy until resolved by the unlikely attendance of Dogberry and his neighbourhood watch. Although the young lovers Hero and Claudio provide the main focus of the plot, it’s the ‘merry war’ between the older, wiser Benedick and Beatrice that grab the headlines.

The coupling of Eve Best and Charles Edwards here is electric. Their character delineations are so in tune with one another that at times they share the same physical characteristics, gestures, which work like an after-image. From her first entrance Best’s Beatrice is merry, carefree, as she splashes about in the water in a moment of pure indulgence, a gesture mimicked more self-consciously by Benedick later on as he soliloquises on love and locked horns.

Edwards as Benedick is nearly always in a reactive mode providing occasions for poniard-wit and repartee. In flights of hyperbole he reels off all the assignments he will undertake for the duke ‘rather than hold three words conference with this harpy.’ Beatrice is centre stage, motionless. This juxtaposition of speechifying and silence, movement and stillness, contrivance and effortlessness, serves as the production’s hallmark. For this is an event about noting, theatre and above all entertainment.

‘I will fit thee with a remedy’ says Don Pedro, (Ewan Stewart) the play’s benign dissembler, as he woos Hero on Claudio’s behalf. In fact the play is full of couplings, contrasts, deceptions and interferences that are both good and malign. Yet the play’s complexity in its near-tragic end in the public denouncement of Hero, and the impassioned, indignant speech of the two old brothers Leonato and Antonio, expertly played by Joseph Marcell and John Stahl, also hit at the heart of the matter: personal integrity in a public domain.

The design, by Mike Britton, is a visual feast. Its multi-coloured variations of deep reds, gold and orange, its giant wicker-man-like puppets in the masque, and in the Moorish-Spanish influence of the costumes and set successfully juxtapose England with Spain. Orange trees frame the stage. Beatrice, ‘born on the windy side of care,’ urges Claudio to be as ‘Seville as an orange,’ a play on the bitter quality of the fruit, its place of origin and the demands of court etiquette to be civil. Later Claudio denounces Hero as ‘a rotten orange.’ Throughout the action oranges are seen in crates, drop from trees or are brought on by characters. 

If there is awkwardness in the play, it is in the juxtaposition between the Dogberry scenes and the fall-out from Claudio’s accusation. Director, Jeremy Herrin, has chosen wisely to go for a straight end-of-pier humour, exploiting the heights of Paul Hunter - Dogberry, and Adrian Hood - Verges, as little and large. Hunter uses an Eric Morecambe, ‘wahay’ gesture in moments of agitation, while Hood remains the perfect foil to his antics. Farm implements stand in for lethal weapons, an assortment of different-sized lamps denote status and rank, while costumes cross between ‘welcome to the Kasbah’ and Wee Willy Winkie. It all makes for a flawed yet ridiculously, satisfying whole.

The play’s villainy belongs exclusively to Don John, the bastard brother of Don Pedro, dressed all in black. ‘I have declared not to sing in my cage.’  Matthew Pidgeon’s anger is fresh, keen-edged. The casting of Ewan Stewart as Don Pedro ensures that both actors explore their natural Scottish rhythms to beat out their intentions. The brothers are linked by melancholy, one of the four humours, yetwhile one uses this in a dispassionate waythe other is destructive.

This production of Much Ado About Nothing delivers on all levels and even the weather, while disrespectful in the afternoon, was tamed by the evening, as a gentle early summer breeze wafted over proceedings. ‘The world must be peopled’, declared Benedick. ‘Yes,’ replied the crowd, enthusiastically. And in the final kiss, switching royal balcony for public platform, it roared its approval.

 

Photo by Manual Harlan

 

Shakespeare’s Globe

21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London SE1 9DT

 Box office on 020 7401 9919

Tickets: £15 - £37.50, Yard £5

May through till October 2011; 7.30, Matinees 2.00, various, check site for further details
http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/on-stage/much-ado-about-nothing
http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/

 


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