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A CurtainUp London Review
Much Ado About Nothing
by Brian Clover
Of course, Much Ado is a much lighter play than Measure for Measure. Don Pedro (Belinda Davison), having vanquished his enemies visits Messina and plays matchmaker between his friend Claudio (Ann Ogborno) and Hero (Mariah Gale), daughter of the Governor. Meanwhile Hero's cousin Beatrice (Yolanda Vasquez) lashes Benedick (Josie Lawrence) with a tongue far sharper than his sword. One couple swears to marry while the other swears never to. One woman submits to a man while the other - horror! - consistently defies one. Plainly this cannot be, and of course it isn't. By the end of the play everything is put back in its rightful place.
Any production at the Globe is a spectacle, an event in itself. The setting is unique and the costumes are gorgeous. But there should be more: tonight the viewers are less like a theatre audience than visitors to a Shakespeare museum. They're giggling, chatting, coughing and indulging in a little horseplay of their own, and good for them. They might be more attentive if the production had more zest to it, but sadly this is lacking since the direction tends to the stolid, while the comic scenes can be downright irritating. The cast's wonderful dance at the end is an intimation of how much fun this could have been. But it is only fair to point out that the crowd did seem to enjoy the evening, laughing in the right places at some of Shakespeare's feeblest gags and appreciating the slapstick. But I doubt there would be a similar reaction to such a lightweight show in any other venue.
This is olde worlde Shakespeare, doubleted and hosed and ignoring the uncomfortable elements. Don Pedro is a flawed ruler, like the Duke in Measure for Measure. He callously manipulates his subjects and hints at that he may even have used his feudal authority to sleep with Hero before her wedding - "I merely taught her how to sing and gave her back". The innocent Hero herself is denounced as a harlot. In church. On her wedding day. By her fiancé. And then, as if this were not enough, her own father repudiates her. Loyal Benedick finds he must kill his best friend. (Unaccountably this tragic moment gets the biggest laugh of the evening.) That friend is Claudio, a superficial and unattractive character who crushes the woman he claims to love in the cruellest possible way. When he thinks he has killed her he apologises at her tomb, but a few moments later he is cracking jokes and insulting her father for the crime of being old. His reward for all this is to marry a resuscitated Hero. Lucky woman! I suppose she thinks after a start like this their relationship can only improve, but we never learn her opinion.
But the implications of all this are left unexplored tonight in favour of a superficial charm and cosiness. The pain of Hero in the wedding scene is real enough, but this soon passes as we are treated to the misguided cavorting of Dogberry (Sarah Woodward)and Verges (Jules Melvin). This production has an all-woman cast, which is inevitably a statement (although, ironically, director Tamara Harvey is credited as "Master" of the Play). In reality it is hard to see that this casting gives it any particular strengths or weaknesses, beyond some strain in some voices and the fact that galligaskins can be unkind to the female figure. Since the play does ask what it means to be a man or a woman this is a missed opportunity.
The strongest part of the play is the confrontation of Beatrice and Benedick. Yolanda Vazquez and Josie Lawrence bring a necessary energy and verve to these roles that is lacking elsewhere. Each vows never to love, but these actors manage to convince us that they can be brought to it. Josie Lawrence in particular has brilliant comic gifts. Her presence, timing and Midlands accent, possibly worthy of the Bard himself, are a delight. But she also brings weight and pathos to the role when it is needed. Mark Rylance gave us a Hamlet here at the Globe that set a benchmark for a generation. But after her Benedick I would love to see Josie Lawrence's interpretation of the Dane.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
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