28th February 2015
I have spoken often enough about my love for Much Ado About Nothing (and the number of times I have been to see it already) that it should have been obvious that pleasing me with a play I knew so well was a difficult task. I very much wanted this production to succeed – I liked the women-in-the-military angle it promised, (as shown in the picture below which I nabbed off their website and is the front cover of their programme) – but it didn’t quite manage to deliver. I think this was in part because they didn’t take it quite far enough – you could only tell Beatrice was meant to be in the military because she wore camouflage (you got no other hint from her demeanour or attitude), and Hero was about the only member of the cast not in the army – why not? What was it meant to signify?
Obviously the most important part of Much Ado is Beatrice and Benedick – after all that’s what Charles II wrote as a reminder in his Second Folio. Unfortunately, Beatrice was not up to Benedick (and even he wasn’t that brilliant) – she seemed far too quiet and mild-mannered for the lines she came out with. She came into her own in the post-declaration scene which can otherwise fall a little flat, but this time was played as a semi-serious wrestling bout between Beatrice and Benedick, giving a fair indication of how they would turn their wits more playfully on each other, but not lose their spark – but I would have liked to see more of that skill earlier on. The actress would be great, I think, in a number of other roles – but just somehow wasn’t Beatrice.
Most of the cast just seemed so young! It was noticeable that Leonato had a much more commanding presence than the rest of the cast (all of whom he probably had a couple of decades on) – there was one brilliant moment, in the midst of the sound and fury following the denunciation, where he almost whispered “I will be heard”- and was.
The basic set was used to good effect, but there was a bit too much theatricality, oddly, in the scenery changes – a swift on-and-off would have been less intrusive than some of the choreographed moves. Similarly, I liked the way they used the PT training to do the eavesdropping scene for the boys – but it contrasted poorly with the out-of-character dance routine they did just before that. In a similar note, Benedick trying to do clap push-ups and failing is somehow much less impressive than managing to do normal ones, and I really didn’t get the sense that Benedick being slightly pathetic was the direction they were going for.
Sometimes it felt that like the director/producer had decided to cram the play full of things which made them laugh, rather than finding the humour in the actual script. Dogberry was hamming up the role – fair enough – but he and the others in their scenes went so far they almost seemed to belong in a different production, because so much of the humour was coming from their overacting, and so little was coming from the script. Likewise, the gay wedding planner who had a wordless role in the wedding seemed only to have been put in for cheap laughs. Sometimes it worked – such as when various characters (particularly Benedick, but also Beatrice I think) broke the fourth wall with some of their speeches.
There were some very good points. The version of Sigh No More was extremely catchy, and used well as a leit-motif (and an indication of when Benedick fell in love). The singing generally was pretty good – especially in the scene at Hero’s tomb. Overall, though, it seemed undermined by a lack of effort – a number of good ideas marred in the execution.