The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting
archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new
shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of
watching live theatre
Much Ado About Nothing
Live From Stratford-upon-Avon and BBC Culture In Quarantine 2020
This is the Shakespeare
comedy about the bickering couple Benedick and Beatrice, whose
friends trick them into admitting to themselves what has been obvious
to us – that they actually love each other. A subplot has a groom
conned into abandoning his bride at the altar and having to make up
for it later.
This Royal Shakespeare
Company production was staged
and recorded in Stratford in 2014, and revived (with some cast
changes) for a short London run in 2016-17, and I have to start with
I had completely
forgotten seeing it in 2016, and
watching the video version did not jog my memory. I had to look up my
old review (which is here) and still can't really
it. I can
now see why, as it is a mix of good moments and missed opportunities,
ending up mildly pleasant rather than wholly successful.
The core of
the comedy is the way the central couple are tricked and how that
affects their behaviour. For each of them it is a staged
eavesdropping scene, with their friends saying things deliberately to
be overheard and the listeners falling for it and reacting while
trying to remain (as they think) unseen.
Luscombe and actor Edward Bennett have a lot of fun with Benedick's
scene, finding comical things to do with some draperies, a Christmas
tree, and a glass of liquor. But the parallel scene involving
Michelle Terry's Beatrice finds no laughs, or any other emotional
effect, at all.
To some extent that is a
matter of casting.
Throughout the play Edward Bennett is an excellent clown,
particularly effective at double-takes and engaging with the
audience, while Michelle Terry, while managing some enjoyably wry
line readings, does not really display any real feeling for comedy.
In all their scenes
together it is clearly he who is carrying her,
and her comic scenes without him are uniformly weaker than his
But this is also largely
a directorial failure is evident
in the fact that I made the same complaint about another actress in
the role in my 2016 review.
Elsewhere the clownish
night watch are
more successfully funny than many productions manage to make them,
largely through the understated foolishness of Nick Haverson's
Dogberry and an overlay of generally irrelevant but hilarious
slapstick and physical comedy.
Tunji Kasim and Flora
Spencer-Longhurst are, through no failings of their own, exactly as
bland and near-invisible as most actors are playing the couple in the
The play is set at the
end of a war, and director Luscombe
and designer Simmon Higlett put it in 1918, to no particular purpose.
Except for an opening scene that suggests that Leonato's house had
been a makeshift hospital and the women all volunteer nurses, and a
little (slightly anachronistic?) Charleston dancing later, the period
is never evoked or used.
Instead, as sometimes
happens at the RSC,
scenic design sometimes feels like an end in itself, with that
hospital tableau, an ornate drawing room, a pop-up billiard table and
an elaborate cemetery set calling attention to themselves more than
they serve the play.
The video version is polished and professional, using and cutting among several cameras to good effect.
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