Much Ado About Nothing 1998

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One of Shakespeare’s best loved comedies, Much Ado About Nothing, tells the stories of two couples. Claudio and Hero are madly in love and agree to marry. Benedick and Beatrice swear that they despise love and treat each other with disdain.

 

She speaks poniards, and every word stabs

 

Benedick and Beatrice’s friends can see through their their ‘merry war’ of wit and realise that they are ideally suited for each other. They plot to bring them together. However, this tale of secret love, courtship and marriage is intertwined with a darker side of Shakespeare’s Messina, where warfare, deception and serious mischief prevail.

 

The first performance of Much Ado About Nothing was on 12th February 1998 Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham. The run time was approximately 3 hours and  40 minutes, and included two fifteen minute intervals. Co-produced by Théâtre National de Bretagne and Le Maillon Théâtre de Strasbourg.

Venue City Country Date No. of Performances
Everyman Theatre Cheltenham UK 12/02/98 4
Arts Theatre Cambridge UK 17/02/98 7
Theatre Royal Bath Bath UK 24/02/98 7
Lyceum Theatre Sheffield UK 03/03/98 7
Civic Theatre Darlington UK 10/03/98 6
Mercat de les Flors Barcelona Spain 14/03/98 3
Majestic Theatre New York USA 25/03/98 13
Theatre Nacional de Bretagne Rennes France 20/04/98 9
Le Mallion Strasbourg France 04/05/98 4
Vestlandhalle Recklinghausen Germany 11/05/98 6
Dramaten Stockholm Switzerland 20/05/98 3
Maly Theatre Moscow Russia 26/05/98 2
Playhouse Theatre London UK 03/06/98 60

Eye Witness

As a teacher of English and an amateur theatricals practitioner I’ve spent many a summer in London hoping to upgrade my English and take in as much theatre action as possible. In the summer of 1998 I was on my seasonal prowl for good theatre. This meant choosing between whatever seemed best in NT and the productions of the plays I knew or the ones with familiar names in. Shakespeare, too, always seemed a safe bet, and Much Ado About Nothing with Saskia Reeves as Beatrice caught my eye. Besides, my friend, one John Russell of Beckton, who had always been there to advise me and occasionally accompany me on my visits to the theatre, approved of my choice. He put in a few good words about the company, explaining what Cheek by Jowl actually meant and why they gave such a name to the company. ‘My kind of thing’, I thought, and it proved to be so – the performance was a treat. It was all there: the language and the acting, the movement and the lighting, the sights and sounds to delight in. For a good hour I was completely taken in, and the part of the brain of an amateur director which automatically analyses the performance was accordingly switched off. In Messina I was.

And then it happened: I was struck by a prop falling off the stage. A flower landed on my lap! For a moment I was not just a member of the audience immersed in the action, but a guest at Leonato’s watching the beauties of Messina dance. And one of them a threw a flower my way. Whether it came from Hero or Beatrice, I don’t know, but the feeling of bliss bestowed on me can still be recollected. Admittedly, the spell was broken at the interval, when a stage technician approached me on my way out. He offered to take the flower saying: ‘Sorry about that, sir.’ I had to give up my ‘gift’ and hand it to him, which, I freely admit, wasn’t my initial intention. The flower was gone, but the magic has continued to this day.

Productions of Cheek by Jowl will no doubt remain one of the top targets during my visits to London, Saskia Reeves will always be among my favourite actresses and Sarita Choudhury takes my breath away even when she does tiger documentaries, but what Hero and Beatrice did for me is beyond dramatics. I will always be able to recall that moment of sheer bliss and that flower, albeit unseen, will always grace my lapel.

Milan Djurisic, Serbia

 

Cast
Stephen ManganDon Pedro
Paul GoodwinDon Juan
Bohdan PorajClaudio
Matthew MacfadyenBenedick
Andrew PriceBalthasar/Friar Francis/First Watchman
Justin SalingerBorachio
Mark LaceyConrade
Riz AbbasiMessenger/Second Watchman
Raad RawiLeonato
Ann FirbankUrsula
Sarita ChoudharyHero
Saskia ReevesBeatrice
Zoe AldrichMargaret/Sexton
Derek HutchinsonDogberry
Sam BeazleyVerges

Creatives
DirectorDeclan Donnellan
DesignerNick Ormerod
Lighting DesignerJudith Greenwood
Movement DirectorJane Gibson
Composer and MDPaddy Cunneen
Assistant DirectorDan Jemmett
Accent CoachJoan Washington
Voice CoachPatsy Rosenburg
Company Stage ManagerSimon Sturgess
Production ManagerAnthony Alderson
Wardrobe ManagerFiona McCann
Deputy Stage ManagerMike Draper
(click to expand)

Time Out


Cheek by Jowl's farewell production touches down after an international tour that has had foreign critics swooning with admiration. You can see why. This Much Ado displays many of the qualities that have made the company's co founders, director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod, so revered over the past 17 years. The staging is lucid and fluid , with every member of the ensemble gainfully employed in the task of telling the sex war comedy in a manner that is choreographed without being showy, as tightly bound as a corset and yet still pulsating with life.

There is no set to speak of, just an array of cream-coloured banners descending from on high and on to which leafy coloured light is projected. The sense of place, turn of the century England, is conveyed mainly through the characters. The soldiers, with their pristine bottle green uniforms, waxed short back and sides and daft moustaches look like out-sized escapees from a Victorian children's nursery. Their behaviour, however, is more redolent of boarding school types at a garden party: braying, sniggering and point-scoring, they freeze in group portraits of the absurd, latently homosexual horseplay. The women, in nondescript white skirts and blouses, share the same clipped enunciation, but they're from a different planet as far as the men are concerned. When Bohdan Poraj's clueless Claudio is given Hero's hand in marriage, he rushes not into her arms but into those of Don Pedro (Stephen Mangan) the friend who wooed her on his behalf.

The point is sufficiently well made that this is a gender-polarised world which Benedick, our sworn bachelor hero, and Beatrice, the sworn spinster with whom he spars, are wise to break from. We watch in delight as Matthew Macfadyen's superb Benedick and Saskia Reeves' schoolmarmish Beatrice are tricked into love via hilarious eavesdropping scenes and arrive at weepy eyed affection. As if we didn't know how it would end, Cheek by Jowl are bowing out on a high.

Dominic Cavendish, 10.06.98

The Independent


Let me be quite clear: Cheek by Jowl's Much Ado About Nothing is wonderful. Not only is it constantly surprising and extraordinarily moving, it is full of wonder.

Most productions manage some of the multiple plots at the expense of others. If you take Beatrice and Benedick to be the central relationship then the play tends to collapse when trying to tie together all the other plots around it. But by widening the focus to all the men's behaviour towards women in times of war, Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod reveal the play to be as tightly laced as Hero's wedding corset.

Even Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare as Heals Catalogue film recognised that the action opens with the men returning from war, but after a flurry of hair washing the women's reaction seemed restricted to an appreciation of well filled uniforms. Here they act in relation to men whose behaviour is utterly dictated by military codes. Instead of the predictable cute-meet Beatrice and Benedick's protracted pairing off is the result of male public school fear and disdain of women. When Benedick is fooled into loving Beatrice, Matthew Macfadyen's literal fall from upright behaviour is gloriously funny.

Military men spend years in their own company, which brings suggestions of homosexuality. This not only explains Don Pedro's usually mysterious sadness, it also beefs up the awkwardness surrounding Claudio's lack of interest in his own marriage. Donnellan uses Don Pedro's announcement of Claudio's betrothal to illuminate this. Upon hearing the news, Claudio, who has walked huffily off into the auditorium, leaps back on stage to hug not his wealthy bride to be, but his best friend.

Donnellan uses his hallmark style of continuous action to mirror the plots and charge up the conflict between the private and public business of love with scenes acted in front of the entire company. Much of the first half is staged as a ball at which Saskia Reeves' mercurial Beatrice becomes deliciously drunk. Meanwhile, the cast pair off and regroup around her, smartly underlining the plot's crucial overheard intimacies.

This is one of those rare occasions that make you understand why people still present Shakespeare. It has nothing to do with making you 'appreciate' his cultural greatness, you simply feel as if you drink in the play's living, breathing passion. The play marks the end, for the foreseeable future, of Cheek by Jowl. All the more reason to book for this resplendent, glowing swansong.

David Benedict, 11.06.98

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