2009 - Much Ado About Nothing

British Shakespeare Company ; July 31, 2009 Yorkshire, UK
Director : Robert J Williamson ; Starring :
Reviewed on : 2009-07-31 14:05:15 ; Reviewed by : Amelia Crowley


Much Ado About Nothing is the first of two plays being performed in one tour by the British Shakespeare Company. As a set for this production Kirkstall Abbey could have been tailor made: the old stone walls with their arched doorways and expanse of green made, with the addition of a bench and two plant-strewn statues - the better to hide behind - a perfect set for Leonato’s gardens as well as for the road in front of his house and was, when touched by flickering torchlight, an eerily beautiful setting for Hero’s “tomb”. Scenery alone, of course, cannot make a play.

Much Ado as a play is fatally easy to perform as all wit and no substance, the quips, jests and retorts of the bantering characters being emphasised to the loss of any greater depth. This did not happen here.

Martha Swan as Beatrice left the audience in no doubt that she had been involved with Benedict prior to this visit and that the end of the relationship was none of her choosing. She was a self-conscious wit, pointing the end of every jibe, emphasising the punch line lest some may fail to see how clearly she was enjoying the verbal sparring, repeatedly insisting that she wanted nothing to do with any man and most particularly not with Benedict. Yet it was clear from her first speech that this was far from true and when, at times, she became serious her sincerity was horribly poignant. David Davies as Don Pedro likewise showed a man trapped behind a public visage: he, always aware of his station, maintained a properly decorous image unable to relax lest he reveal the man beneath. When, in contrast, he was required for his ruses sake to play a part he seized upon the role with gusto; Balthasar being omitted from this production the Don himself took up a guitar to play “Sigh no more” in the style of a tragically romantic troubadour and indulged himself enormously in his recounting of Beatrice’s supposed love-agony. One could well believe that so propriety-bound a public figure might embrace the opportunity to play the fool awhile.

Particularly worthy of note was Louisa Lytton’s Hero: very young, very eager and very much in love she was a believably light hearted, innocent maiden. Growing in confidence throughout the first half of the play she slowly responded to Claudio’s embraces growing surer of him every time they were together till the watcher looked with dread anticipation toward the inevitable wedding. This was all that it promised to be: her happiness snatched from her and love thrown back in her face she was suddenly not a silly girl but a woman betrayed and bewildered. Her fainting fit was entirely natural and believable indeed had her death been more than mere rumour it would have seemed not at all strange in the light of her character and reactions.

Fortunately, for it is a comedy, the production was not all subtext and character studies: Beatrice was as sharp and Williamson’s Benedict as cutting as could be desired, the latter being both charming and witty, a perfect foil for Gabriel Thomson as an inarticulate Claudio who grew eloquent only in rage. Throughout the play the audience was rocked with laughter, not laugh-to-show-we-know-it’s-a-comedy laughter, not even we’ve-seen-the-film-and-know-where-the-jokes-go laughter but the true, unsuppressable, riotous laughter of the deeply amused. Mark Arden’s Dogberry in particular was magnificently funny; with the manner of a sergeant major but without the ability he gave a performance of Pythonesque hilarity which never failed to hold everyone in stitches and excused even a slightly odd character substitution which saw Borachio recounting his wicked doings not to Conrad but to Don John himself, the man who paid him and who had already witnessed the whole scene.

All in all it was an enthralling performance which left me sighing for more and greatly looking forward to the second production of the tour.