Antic Disposition – Grays Inn Hall
Ah Much Ado. This was my fifth production in five years and it was every bit as enjoyable as all the others – no sign of fun-fatigue in the same way I think I might be getting misery-and-ambition fatigue (and still one more Macbeth to go this year, oh Lord!)
This was an Antic Disposition production in Grays Inn Hall, with an Anglo-French flavour similar to Henry V but luckily not at all harrowing. It was WW2, rather than WW1, which definitely helps. Messina was a town square, complete with bunting and tables (and an onstage bar which sold drinks – but only during the interval!). We saw the first night which came with the minor additional excitement of power cuts taking out the stage lights, and we were sat at a table in the bar, right in the action.
Leonato and his family were French (as was the watch), while the visiting* army were English. And the archetypal scene allowed the actors to take on some stock tropes which in most cases illuminated, rather than obliterated, their individual characters.
Floriane Andersen was stunningly beautiful as Hero, with a hint of Gallic mystery (and a hint of laughter) which could** have been taken for wantonness or mockery. Alexander Varey’s Claudio was very buttoned-up British, but unfortunately as a character note this did nothing to dispel the villainy. And it turns out that the problem with being in the action was wanting to be in the action – if Benedick wasn’t ready to kill Claudio, I think about half of the audience was…
Tommy Burgess as Boracchio was the epitome of a dirty corporal – he had that cocky look, the up-for-it-manner, but also the fundamental decency (or perhaps just misplaced chivalry) that meant he had to own up when he thought his actions had killed Hero. I liked Theo Landey’s Don Pedro, the slightly louche captain, but unusually I wanted to punch him as well as Claudio***. And for some reason all of the lines about nobility – the ‘Sweet Prince’s, the ‘my lord’s – seemed to fall sharply into mockery and not common courtesy. I felt, as I hadn’t felt before, the imbalance of power between the family of Leonato – comprised of old men and women, perhaps a little shabby and careworn around the edges – and the swaggering army who had come to their door. But this could always be an underlying current in the play, and I couldn’t tell you exactly why it struck me so forcefully on this occasion.
Chiraz Aich played probably the angriest Beatrice I have seen (Benedick’s line about her being “possess’d with a fury” seemed entirely an accurate description – no hyperbole at all), while Nicholas Osmond’s Benedick was possibly the most laidback, which made for a good combination. It also added to the story as he moved from the archetype of intelligent, lazy, anything-for-an-easy life to a more responsible character – first stung by being described as the Prince’s Jester and (eventually) prepared to call Claudio out. He and Beatrice played off each other very well, if ending up more on the serious end of the scale of how to play their relationship – in my own personal litmus test, the “Kill Claudio” line elicited a hiss of indrawn breath from the audience.
While most the action was in English, Louis Bernard’s lugubrious Dogberry met the Watch in French which hindered understanding not at all (much of the humour was wordless in any case – including a wonderful interplay with an annoyed matron) and manged to bring to mind Dad’s Army as much as Jacques Tati. The long-running put upon bar owner/idiot staff member riff Bernard had going with Scott Brooks as Verges was also delightful.
As I have come to expect from Antic Disposition, the music was also a treat, especially Molly Miles’ Margaret for singing, and Scott Brooks on the accordion. And of course Benedick would play the clarinet – I have no idea why it seems so utterly right but it does!
Re-reading this review, I realise I’ve made it sound a lot more serious than it is – focusing on the hints and little niggling thought it sparked in my head, as only good productions do. But I’d like to reiterate that mainly, this was as funny, romantic, enjoyable as you could wish a Much Ado to be.
* I naturally went to write “invading” which tell us an awful lot about my unconscious (on indeed not-so-unconscious) connections with armies. And indeed I did feel more of an edge this time between town and troops – perhaps that’s the advantage of France being more clearly an invaded, liberated, put upon place in the British psyche than Sicily.
** If I was feeling generous towards Claudio – but I never am…
*** Or is it just today’s politics coming through? My tolerance levels for abuse of women are definitely lowering, while my anger towards those who are complicit or stand by is rising.