Much Ado About Nothing

October 7, 2012

Other than reading on the page, my only experience with Much Ado is the Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson version, which made me a bit surprised, but still enraptured, with the…nervousness of Deborah Hay’s Beatrice. Hay and Ben Carlson were absolutely magical together as the quarreling, soon-to-be lovers, and at the end, the chemistry between the real-life couple was beautifully apparent.

Along with Hay and Carlson, Christopher Newton has come to Stratford from Shaw to direct, and I don’t know if I fancy myself an expert, but I thought one could tell from the look and feel of the play. It was a bit more stuffed-looking than the typical show at the Festival theatre (not even discounting last year’s Misanthrope!). A grand piano was tossed around the stage in almost every scene.

But the direction of the actors, and the acting, was superb. Juan Chioran and Gareth Potter were a regal and devious Don Pedro and Don John. Bethany Jillard was a very strong Hero, and Tyrone Savage made Claudio, someone I usually find too stupid for words, a bit smarter. But I suppose anyone looks dumb compared to Beatrice and Benedick.

Which made me more sad to recognize how much the play highlights the disenfranchisement of women, and perhaps this explains this Beatrice’s nervousness. When the crisis arises, even her wit can’t save her cousin. Claudio and Hero’s marriage, her shaming, and the eventual resolution are all matters worked out by the men, including the friar who comes up with a very familiar-sounding plot. Margaret is a tool to be used; Hero and Beatrice can only talk, and when it comes to something important, no one listens. Except Benedick, which makes them the most wonderful couple around.

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