Log in

No account? Create an account
23 June 2011 @ 08:46 pm
London theatre review, post 1: Much Ado About Nothing  
Right. So. Here are my notes on Much Ado. I've left out one or two of the more rambling asides that had nothing to do with the production, and I've moved a paragraph or two so that elements are grouped more naturally (as opposed to falling wherever I happened to remember them and write them down), but basically this is just transcribed from what I wrote once we'd gotten back to our hotel room after the show. So, er, sorry about that. But I did warn you.

Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndham’s Theatre, London
starring David Tennant, Catherine Tate
17 June 2011

It’s funny – you think of Much Ado as a play that absolutely belongs to Beatrice and Benedick, but in fact they’re not together, alone, all that much: the “my dear lady Disdain” exchange at the beginning, the bit at the costumed ball, “Kill Claudio,” and one brief, blissful scene toward the end (“Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably”) – and that’s it. But they steal the show – so it’s no surprise that tonight belonged to David Tennant and Catherine Tate: David in particular, in my very biased opinion. He was a beautifully physical Benedick; he rode in on a golf cart festooned with British flags and used the cart almost as a partner later in the scene (“The savage bull may, but if ever the sensible Benedick bear it…”), playing as though the rails of the cart were the prison bars of matrimony, or perhaps the display cage for “Benedick the married man.” He threw himself into dancing (and into pantomime drag) with gusto at the masked ball – and the costumes there were a lovely touch; Hero was dressed in pink satin, with tiara and necklace, just like a Barbie doll, and Claudio, in poet shirt, earring, and striped sash, seemed to be borrowing from Byron: both of them playing at expected ideas of gender and love. Beatrice and Benedick, by contrast, chose costumes that both reflected and sent up the gender roles of the other sex: Beatrice seemed to be a member of the Rat Pack (fedora, black tie) by way of Michael Jackson (penny loafers, high-water trousers, white socks), while Benedick wore an ungodly combination of pink lace (long-sleeved top), black sparkles (over the pink lace), black lace (tights), and denim miniskirt, all topped off with a blond curly wig and a pig’s nose. (The two of them don’t play by society’s rules, but with no stridency or fuss. And Benedick never seems quite at home, to me, in the military uniform; his ridiculous sparkles-and-lace drag outfit, or his Superman T-shirt and shorts, seemed to fit him much better.) It was rather a sight to watch him move about on stage in that getup, utterly unselfconscious, involvement and enjoyment evident in every inch of his rangy frame. Later he lolled rather wonderfully on a lawn chair, wheedling with Margaret to fetch Beatrice, and with Beatrice to tell him which of his bad parts caused her to fall in love with him.

(Oh – bless. David took off his sunglasses during the scene where Benedick rails about Beatrice to Don Pedro – “She misused me! Past the endurance of a block!” – and managed to hit the actor playing Don Pedro in the face with them; then he pressed his hand quickly to the other man’s face, in apology and as if to take away the hurt, then ad-libbed, “That’s how angry I am!” Hee.)

The thing I’ll take away from David Tennant’s Benedick is that physicality – a thing that I don’t remember noticing in particular when he played the Tenth Doctor, oddly enough; there I was more engrossed by how entranced he was with words. But I’ll also delight in how caught up he became in his own games and enjoyments; in spite of his cynical stance, he got absorbed in what he was doing: the moment with the Casio, for example [ed: Benedick uses a Casio as he tries to come up with a song about his love for Beatrice: “I was not born under a rhyming planet”], where he starts examining and investigating this toy, delighting in his ability to make “Greensleeves” play faster or slower, his body swaying almost unconsciously to the music. And especially the overhearing scene, when he begins to dance to “Sigh No More”: it starts out sarcastic (“Is it not strange that sheep’s guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies?”), but he gets swept up in his own movements and pirouettes, so much so that he bumps into a workman’s table and puts his hand into an open tray of white paint (which, of course, he gets liberally all over his body as he tries to hide and overhear, and as he reacts with shock to the “news” he’s hearing). Watching him then was lovely, this wonderful little mime of disgust and speculation as he tries – and fails – to figure out how to get the paint off of his hand, even contemplating wiping it across a woman’s dress (and chest). He confronts Beatrice with that same energy; “I do love nothing in the world so well as you” is a spontaneous, awkward blurt, but midway through the scene he’s loving it, entirely in Beatrice’s space, rocking from side to side with his hands behind his back – challenging her, gleefully, to say she loves him, too. (And I did love their shared, giddy laughter after the exchange of declarations: they can’t even quite believe they’ve somehow reached this point.) There was a moment, at the end, when they were dancing, when I thought: “I get it now, I really do. I get why he’s a star. You don’t want to take your eyes off him when he’s on stage.” (Also, he got to be Scottish. I highly approve.)

I liked Beatrice and Benedick’s first encounter: the way they clinked their glass and bottle together was like an acknowledgment, or a civil crossing of fencing foils: let the match begin. And at Beatrice’s hissed “I know you of old,” Benedick whipped his head around, the expression on his face pure, irritated “oh, here we go with that again” – he had a remark all ready, but didn’t get to deliver it, and that little moment did more than anything to make me wonder what their shared history was: what would he have said, if he’d gotten the chance?

I haven’t written about Catherine Tate yet, perhaps because she felt so…Catherine Tate. She was good; I’m just not sure what to say about her, and perhaps I just wanted her to do something a little different – to stretch a bit more into the emotional underpinnings of Beatrice, which I know she can play from watching her as Donna, but which it can also be easy to pass over in making Beatrice funny. (Perhaps all Beatrices have been ruined slightly for me by my first, Emma Thompson, who does that so brilliantly.) She did have some very nice moments, though: a little, slightly overbright and brittle smile at “And I am sunburnt,” for example, and then looking down at her feet; you could see that all her earlier talk about rather hearing a dog bark at a crow, etc. was not actually disdain so much as it was defense – she went on the attack to protect herself from not getting something she wanted, in her secret heart. And I really liked the jaded quality she brought to “Not until God make men of some other metal than earth”: she’d seen some disappointing men in her life, that was clear, and she didn’t think the species had all that much to recommend it, let alone to make it the ruling sex. I also really liked the casual knowingness on “Civil as an orange; and something of that jealous complexion,” delivered with the sort of offhand perspicacity you’d use when gossiping with a friend. The proposal from Don Pedro was played for straight-up awkwardness, sitcom-style crossed wires – Beatrice burst out laughing, thinking the whole thing was a joke – but there was a glimmer of real worry in her response, a fear not that she’d offended a powerful man, but that she’d hurt a man’s feelings. Benedick thinks that Beatrice speaks poniards, and every word stabs, but it’s clear here that she doesn’t really mean to wound.

The big scene for Beatrice alone – “What fire is in mine ears?” – was a bit peculiar, as Beatrice was hoisted up into the air; Catherine did some excellent physical comedy suspended in midair on a workman’s harness rope, but it was hard to pay attention to – or, indeed, even hear over the audience’s laughter – what Hero and Ursula were saying. Which did make Beatrice’s following speech seem a bit unmotivated, at a crucial point. I can understand what the temptation might have been; it’s a tricky scene, it parallels but is not as overtly funny as the previous overhearing scene, and it must have seemed appealing to try to make it as funny as the men’s. But it would have been nice to see Catherine really overhearing Hero, to take on board what she was being accused of (“Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much?”) – to see her registering and reacting to that, instead of dangling in midair and flailing.

The setting of the play was ‘80s, in (I’m assuming from the essay in the program) Gibraltar. This worked reasonably well, from the vaguely George Michael-esque setting of “It was a lover and his lass” (guilty feet have got no rhythm in the springtime, the only pretty ring time?) to the Princess Diana meringue fantasy of Hero’s wedding dress – right up until the moment Claudio rejects Hero. Or rather, when Leonato tells Hero that she should die. I’d seen it suggested that a play so insistent about a woman’s “purity” and virtue couldn’t work in a modern setting, but I had no problem with that, sadly; we still live very much in a world where even strangers feel they have a right to police a woman’s sexuality and divide the world up into “nice girls” and “sluts.” And Claudio spurning Hero still makes emotional sense because he thinks she’s been unfaithful to him, and a “stale” and a “wanton” more generally and secondarily; that slippage from “you slept with another man” to “you’re a whore” seems still to be nastily on-point. But we don’t live in a world where the group response to a father’s “Do not live” would be “Don’t worry, we’ll prove she’s a virgin” rather than shock and horror at his overreaction. Nor do we live in a world where a challenge to the death is an accepted and unremarked-on response to dishonor, rather than a furtive and aberrant response. It’s not beyond the pale that Leonato might reject his daughter for ruining her reputation and his, and it’s not necessarily beyond the pale that Beatrice might want Claudio to die for what he’s done, even if these scenarios are less likely. It’s not even totally beyond the pale that Benedick might agree to kill Claudio, as a mark of his love for Beatrice. But it doesn’t make sense, in the recognizable modern world we’ve been in up to this point, that everyone else takes these as acceptable actions, as reasonable next steps. (This is where R&J has an advantage in modern adapting, I think: not just the easy analogy of gang violence, but the fact that it plunges you directly into a world – wherever or whenever it might be – where street brawls and family feuds are an accepted way of life, and everything else follows from that. Plays like Much Ado or Twelfth Night tend to go on in a fairly “normal” modern way in adaptations, until suddenly it’s time for an incongruous duel.)

The inclusion of “Innogen” as Leonato’s wife instead of “Antonio” [“Innogen” being a ghost character in the original text of the play] was another of these odd moments, as Hero’s mother just sort of fluttered at the edges of scenes, and then behaved in a way that was incongruous with the rest of the play’s world: why does Beatrice need Benedick to fight Claudio – why is it so important that she cannot be a man with wishing – if Innogen can defend Hero and threaten to fight Claudio in her own person? It felt deeply strange to have her there in that scene – although my friend pointed out that one might not think anything of it if one didn’t already know that the character didn’t generally exist – because Hero’s fate and chastity are being discussed and decided and fought over by men, and that separation of worlds, with only the smallest glimpse into the private all-female world before Hero’s wedding (as with the willow scene in Othello), seems purposeful; it’s why Hero has no defense for herself – or why no one heeds it much, anyway; she needs men to clear her name because she can’t, and it doesn’t make sense to have Innogen try but not Beatrice or Hero herself; it isn’t, in the world of this play, a woman’s office. And I think that such a divided world could make sense in a modern production, but it’s something that has to be worked for, since it doesn’t come for free the way that it does in a production set in a more distant era.

But those are relatively small things. The production was simply and sheerly enjoyable and fun to watch. I would have liked to…hold the Beatrice/Benedick scenes a bit more; that last scene on the lawn chairs was a great moment, the two of them still sparring but working in full concert at last, and all too brief; and the way Benedick kissed Beatrice at the end, half-challenge, half-abandon (and the way she reacted to his “Peace, I will stop your mouth”: wanting to be offended, looking at him like “I’m so going to kill you,” but unable to stop herself from laughing) spoke volumes about the future of their relationship; and their dance together, partnership in a most basic sense, was just fun. So it’s no surprise that I wanted so much more from the two of them, and a compliment besides.
Neaneadods on June 24th, 2011 01:48 am (UTC)
The proposal from Don Pedro was played for straight-up awkwardness, sitcom-style crossed wires – Beatrice burst out laughing, thinking the whole thing was a joke – but there was a glimmer of real worry in her response, a fear not that she’d offended a powerful man, but that she’d hurt a man’s feelings

Intriguing. The movie version was the first time I hadn't seen that scene played entirely for laughs, with the Prince leading off, delivering his line in a sort of "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" manner and it always throws me that he's serious. And this is another take on it.

... but it seems to me that if the Prince was serious, no woman, including Beatrice, is really in a position to say "Uh, no, Your Highness."

But we don’t live in a world where the group response to a father’s “Do not live” would be “Don’t worry, we’ll prove she’s a virgin”

THIS. It's not so much that Claudio's thinking with his britches and pride that makes me think that the play doesn't move well into modern times, it's the reaction of the rest of the characters to the accusation.
tempestsarekind: hey nonny nonnytempestsarekind on June 24th, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC)
Well, it depends, I think: for whatever reason, this is a world where women can say no to the Prince; the big question is whether their families will allow it. Which is why Leonato says to Hero, "If the Prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer"--he requires her to say yes if the Prince asks for her hand. But Beatrice isn't under the same sorts of familial constraints as Hero, so she can refuse. Though even there, I think, it's important that she does so with a joke and a disclaimer, so as not to cause offense.

it's the reaction of the rest of the characters to the accusation

Yes, I see. Though I do think that you could choose to have everyone play the scenes in a way that would make them work a little better, by showing how appalling this behavior is to the other characters. I don't think it would play against the text all that much...
(no subject) - neadods on June 25th, 2011 07:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - tempestsarekind on June 26th, 2011 08:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - neadods on June 27th, 2011 12:16 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - tempestsarekind on July 1st, 2011 09:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
a_t_raina_t_rain on June 24th, 2011 02:34 am (UTC)
Thanks for taking the time to do such a detailed post! I so wish I could see this production.

(And I would love to see a production that actually included Hero's mother, but giving her Antonio's lines is definitely ... bwuh?)
tempestsarekind: better a witty fool than a foolish wittempestsarekind on June 24th, 2011 04:11 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'd never really considered the whole Innogen thing before, but it really did make me think that maybe, if Shakespeare cut her out in an early draft, that was why: this way, Hero doesn't have anyone but Beatrice on her side, really, and neither of them have much weight with Leonato once he's rejected Hero. But giving Innogen Antonio's lines was deeply weird, when "she" starts threatening Claudio.
litlover12 on June 24th, 2011 02:41 am (UTC)
That was lovely! Your fangirling made me feel like I was really there! :-)
tempestsarekind: too wise to woo peaceablytempestsarekind on June 24th, 2011 04:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Spackle: doctor who: tardis on the edge!spacklegeek on June 24th, 2011 03:14 am (UTC)
Oh, this was great! I loved your dissections, and your descriptions have me itching to jump on a plane (or Apparate...?) and see this for myself.

how were you in the same space as David Tennant and not explode with fangirl!joy??
tempestsarekind: ten is a bookwormtempestsarekind on June 24th, 2011 04:07 pm (UTC)

I figured that if I exploded, I wouldn't get to watch the play! :)
La Reine Noire: Wimminz!lareinenoire on June 24th, 2011 03:53 am (UTC)
YAY! Thank you so much for posting this!

It's really interesting, what you say about the weirdness of comedies translated to modern settings, and completely true that it isn't Claudio's rejection of Hero or the reasons he gives (sadly) that come off as unrealistic, but the reactions of everybody around Hero that don't click as they do in an earlier context (it worked perfectly well in Branagh's vaguely Regency pastiche, for instance, and I could see it working well into a Victorian setting, but 1980s, not so much).

The Antonio/Innogen thing is just odd. And, yes, it does work against the text in many ways; why can't Hero or Beatrice defend themselves if another woman is doing so?

Bottom line, however, SO jealous that you got to see this! But very glad you did and that you enjoyed it!

(Also, OMG Scottish accent! He did one as Berowne in Love's Labours Lost and it was such a delight to hear. Also, Tennant's physicality is truly amazing; both in LLL and in Hamlet, it was near-impossible to take your eyes off him.)
tempestsarekind: berowne is perplexed [dt]tempestsarekind on June 24th, 2011 04:15 pm (UTC)
I keep thinking that there must be some sort of way to make this work in a modern setting, but I think it would involve playing the reactions differently--as a sort of train wreck that keeps getting more and more out of control, so that people would be appalled if they stopped to think about what they're doing and asking of each other, but they just don't have any time to do so.

But I'm really glad I got to see it, too! And it was really different to see David Tennant actually moving about on a stage, without a camera cutting away at various moments; his physical...inventiveness was much more apparent.
(no subject) - lareinenoire on June 24th, 2011 04:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - tempestsarekind on June 24th, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lareinenoire on June 24th, 2011 05:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - tempestsarekind on June 26th, 2011 08:17 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lareinenoire on June 26th, 2011 08:39 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - tempestsarekind on June 26th, 2011 08:52 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lareinenoire on June 26th, 2011 09:32 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - tempestsarekind on June 26th, 2011 09:40 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lareinenoire on June 26th, 2011 09:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - tempestsarekind on June 26th, 2011 09:51 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lareinenoire on June 26th, 2011 10:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - tempestsarekind on June 26th, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC) (Expand)
viomisehuntviomisehunt on June 24th, 2011 06:09 pm (UTC)
I "liked" the film with Denzel Washington as the Prince, but mostly I liked it because it was beautiful to look at. And it sounds as if this production was probably beautiful to look at. I am so happy that you had this experience of watching actors having some much fun with their craft and letting their audience share in it.
tempestsarekind: hey nonny nonnytempestsarekind on June 26th, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC)
I think the acting is really good in the Branagh film (particularly Emma Thompson as Beatrice, who is great), with the exceptions of Keanu Reeves and Michael Keaton, who remain inexplicable choices to me. But seeing the play in a different light was an excellent experience.
(no subject) - viomisehunt on June 27th, 2011 06:47 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - tempestsarekind on July 1st, 2011 09:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - viomisehunt on July 1st, 2011 11:04 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - tempestsarekind on July 1st, 2011 11:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Magistrix Texan: OMGerstwhiletexan on June 24th, 2011 11:41 pm (UTC)
This is awesome - I'm so, so jealous AGAIN EVEN MORE ALL THE TIME.

The thing I’ll take away from David Tennant’s Benedick is that physicality – a thing that I don’t remember noticing in particular when he played the Tenth Doctor, oddly enough;

Interestingly, it's his physicality as the Doctor that *I* most notice when watching the series, and it was the thing that struck me most forcebly about his Hamlet and LLL. He completely dominates scenes in such a different way to, say, Branagh's brooding, still Hamlet and I LOVE that.

Anyway. JEALOUS.
Magistrix Texanerstwhiletexan on June 24th, 2011 11:43 pm (UTC)
Also, have you heard his audio play of Much Ado? I'd be interested to know what you think about his different portrayals of Benedick!
(no subject) - tempestsarekind on June 26th, 2011 08:30 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - erstwhiletexan on June 27th, 2011 01:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - tempestsarekind on July 1st, 2011 10:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - tempestsarekind on June 26th, 2011 08:29 pm (UTC) (Expand)
fuck this, everybody is constellations now: he | 5-6-7-8vega_ofthe_lyre on February 24th, 2012 03:26 am (UTC)
Ahhh, yes, agreement on all points! Especially with Tate's Beatrice, which was just a little too broad and Catherine Tate for me as well; I wanted her to tone down on the self-conscious bluster that kept creeping up! But her chemistry with David is so stellar I don't even care, and, my God, I maintain that the paint scene and his speech after are the single best pieces I've ever seen him act. What a dude. And I'm so glad he got to play it Scots!
tempestsarekind: berowne is perplexed [dt]tempestsarekind on February 24th, 2012 08:37 pm (UTC)
Yes! I kept thinking to myself, "oh, Catherine, just trust the verse more!" Which sounded kind of pretentious even to myself, but I just meant that everything you need for Beatrice is right there; you can play it simply and have it be effective! But you're so right; their chemistry is fantastic. And I loved everything about the paint scene. So much.