Monday, October 03, 2005

Much Ado About Nothing, Crucible Theatre Sheffield, 30/09/05

Both The Times and The Guardian gave this production mixed reviews, and they were probably judged about right. I however, perhaps just a little biased, would praise higher the parts they liked, and be more tolerant of the parts they didn't.

For example, the watchwomen. No critic seems to have liked this idea, and according to the Sunday Times (sorry I can't find the link) it was 'abysmally acted'. Well that's a tad harsh to put it mildly. Yes, it was silly and a bit random-in-the-new-sense-of-the-word, but I'm surprised the idea has been so badly received. Some of the lines were funnier by being said by women, some weren't. It was an interesting experiment that didn't detract form my viewing personally, but I'd hardly say it was a highlight either.

Then there's the lack of a feeling of tragedy being around the corner. In this production, you never got the impression that the fact that Hero is innocent would never come out - it was just a matter of time. This comedy was a comedy. Some people won't like this at all, I realise, but if its aim were to produce a glorious-looking comedy that was a pleasure to just sit back and enjoy then it succeeded; if it intended to create a real atmosphere of threat and menace in the middle part of the play then it didn't. Claudio was the real reason for this, as he never showed truly deep anger, sadness or, eventually, remorse. Even if the tragedy is not meant to be an important part of this production, you can't just have poor acting.

Luckily there was no danger of that from Sam West's Benedick or especially Claire Price's Beatrice, which was undoubtedly the performance of the night. She's just a complete joy to watch, always filling the stage. The only problem is that she often overshadows everyone else but it's a small price to pay for such a wonderful performance. Her Beatrice is strong-willed and clever, not just 'feisty', and she loves Benedick with the same passion and intensity that she despised him. I absolutely love Beatrice's part and so I loved the fact that she made evey line count. Sam West's Benedick was no playful tease, either, but a soldier through and through. Most of the reviews I've read have mentioned the way he delivers the line 'The world must be peopled' (rocking on his heels as if ordering his troops to go forth and multiply) but that's only because it really is hilarious. As the Times mentions, one of the best scenes in the production is when Benedick is persuaded that Beatrice loves him - perfectly directed and just very very funny.

So, it wasn't flawless by any means, but a beautiful thing to watch and enjoy. And if the phrase 'abysmally acted' can be used for this, I just can't wait for the reviews of Richard II.... I'm setting myself up for a fall, I know....

1 comment:

David Duff said...

Just back from France so my first chance to read your review.

You are right, I think, that all comedy should contain a dark thread. I remember a RSC production of 'Loves Labours Lost', set in an idyllic, Autumnal, late-Edwardian period, and played as the lightest of froth until the final scene when news of the death of the king was accompanied by a distant but ominous rumble of guns from the western front! A terrific piece of theatre and an excellent example of a director illuminating a writer's point for a modern audience. Of course, you can go from that to 'The Dream' which is the very lightest of comedies, and one of the dark threads contained in the danger to the lady's reputations by being alone in the woods with the men, is virtually lost to a modern audience.

But from those, one can move to the dark 'comedies'(?) of 'All's Well', 'Measure for Measure' and the deeply pessimistic and vitriolic satire of 'Troilus and Cressida'. There's no doubt that in those 'comedies', the dark thread is more of a black 'ribbon! (I often wonder what happened to WS when he wrote those strange, complex, ambiguous plays?)

It seems to me that 'Much Ado' treads that high-wire act between comedy and tragedy with the surest of steps. For me, one of the most electric moments in the whole of Shakespeare canon, is the chilling, "Kill Claudio", uttered by an implacable Beatrice. But soon after, all is rescued and love returns to centre stage for a happy ending. Even so, one realises that the marriage of Claudio and Hero is never going to be of the same quality as Benedick and Beatrice. Claudio has already failed his first test and things will never be the same. But with B&B, you just know that their marriage is based on the firmest of rocks - mutual friendship and mutual regard.