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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
at Shakespeare’s Globe

GOOD TO THE VERY LAST INSULT
By JOHN NATHAN

  (L to R) Eve Best, Uny Uhiara and Charles Edwards/ Ph: Manuel Harlan

There are two Much Ados currently in London. The one in the West End (already reviewed here) has been given a 1980s makeover, features raunchy stag and hen nights (prior to Hero and Claudio’s wedding), and serves as a glitzy vehicle for two (Doctor Who) television stars. It is brash, bold, sexy and exciting, and anyone unable to get a ticket to Mamma Mia! will be perfectly happy at that Much Ado
 
The other one, at Shakespeare’s Globe, is performed in Elizabethan dress and for its energy relies almost entirely on the charge generated by Shakespeare’s language and the brickbats and banter exchanged by his two most reluctant lovers, Beatrice and Benedick. This production has none of the crowd-pleasing tricksy-ness of the West End version, yet it pleases the open-air theater's crowd to no end – so much so that not even a torrential downpour thinned the packed standing area around the stage. 
 
If anything, you would have expected Jeremy Herrin – a Royal Court director of modern plays of the moment such as Richard Bean’s global warming romp The Heretic – to have played much faster and looser with Shakespeare’s comedy than does his West End counterpart Josie Rourke. 
 
But no. Herrin's production is all about text and fine acting. With the quintessentially English Charles Edwards playing a swaggeringly arrogant Benedick, and with the better-known Eve Best (Broadway credits include Moon for the Misbegotten with Kevin Spacey) as a formidably intelligent Beatrice, the result is a Much Ado that is as rewarding I have seen. 
 
Edwards’ Benedick is in many respects the man his recent Aguecheek (in Peter Hall’s Twelfth Night) would love to be. He combines the self-obsession of the confirmed bachelor with the strutting arrogance of the womaniser. To these dubious virtues, Edwards adds a touch of Aguecheek’s vanity, which he winningly invites the Globe’s groundlings to undermine, rewarding them with hilarious double-takes of hurt pride. 
 
Best similarly builds a relationship with the punters, smothering one startled groundling with hugs when it dawns on her Beatrice that that man she publicly holds in contempt, privately loves her. 
 
That said, her eavesdropping scene could be much more inventive. Beatrice merely hides behind that oft-used comedy vehicle of a sheet hanging on a clothesline. And Benedick's isn't much better. He just ends up on a ladder, although before then there is some nicely timed visual comedy as he disguises himself as a gardener. To add to this short list of reservations there are the Tourette's-like eruptions emitted by Paul Hunter’s odd little law officer Dogberry (the one in the West End is better), which is about as funny as watching a grown man blow raspberries. To be fair, each of Hunter’s constipated groans did draw howls of delight from a Japanese contingent of the audience. 
 
But where it counts, Herrin’s production delivers all the hoped-for emotional highs, lows and depths. The silly subplot hatched by Matthew Pidgeon’s dastardly Don John (much better than the one in the West End) is a plunge into bleak despair that even Edward's flippant Benedick has to take seriously. And as if to prove the production's effectiveness, even that thunderous cloudburst failed to shoo away an audience determined to stay until the reluctant lovers finally kiss, by which time the metaphorical and meteorological clouds had lifted. It is probably the most moving reconciliation between Benedick and Beatrice that I have seen, or at least, it is certainly more moving than the one in the West End. 
 


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