IN WHICH YOUR CRITIC FALLS IN LOVE WITH A BENEDICK AND A DOG-BOWL
This is actually the one we know as Much Ado About Nothing – though some nifty Shakespeareology suggests that it may have had the other title, usually thought of as a “lost” play. The doubling with Love’s Labour’s Lost (reviewed below, well worth catching them in order, and reading them in the right order might help too) was inspired by AD Gregory Doran’s theory that the witty Berowne and spirited Rosaline from LLL should get together in the end, like Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado. Hence director Luscombe’s use of the same company, the same lovely Charlecote Park set, and (not least) the way that Nigel Hess’ fine score weaves through both, moving between Crown-Imperial heroics, subtle atmospherics, and sweetly sung ballads to pastiche Edwardian tunes.
The cross-casting is not all literal (you couldn’t turn Chris McCalphy’s magnificent monosyllabic Constable Dull into a yattering Dogberry, so Nick Haverson ramps up his hectic comedy still further , to the point of mania indeed, with high-speed pomposity, verbal confusion and an unforgettable tic of outrage. As we join them in 1918, as Charlecote Park is requisitioned by the returning army. David Horovitch, still pedantic and bufferish but less absurd, is now Leonato and gives the horrified father real power in the church scene; Michelle Terry is the striding, head-girlish, scornfully witty Beatrice, who like her more delicate cousin Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) has been working as a VAD nurse. That, artfully, makes her air of cynical new toughness credible. And Edward Bennett, who was lively and fun enough as Berowne, now flowers into the most likeable, funniest and most genuinely touching Benedick since Charles Edwards’ fabulous Globe performance.
The Charlecote set comes even more into its own, as does the machinery. The stage has immense depths so that distant rooms glide forward, and far beneath the sliding floor unseen subterranean stagehands (take a bow) enable fine little rooms rooms to rise on that ever-surprising platform: a billiard-room, a boudoir , a bier, and most superbly poor Dogberry’s overcrowded scullery. It is serving as a police station, where Haverson tries to iron his shirt while interrogating, teapots get in everybody’s way, the washing-up is still in progress, and nobody can get out of the room because the towel-rail is jammed against the dishrack. Dogberry gets his foot stuck in a bowl marked DOG, which is particularly pleasing.
Once again, the anachronistic period setting serves the plot just fine: intrigues and jealousies are entirely credible in a regimental setting, all mess-dress and missed promotions. Sam Alexander is a sullenly malevolent Don John, Chris Nayak an over-willing Borachio (his remorseful moment near the end is more convincingly done than I’ve seen it, happy debut-season Mr Nayak). There’s real solemnity and horror in the church scene and the grieving; and broad, beautiful comedy in the eavesdropping. Especially the bit with Benedick and the giant Christmas tree. One of my more solemn colleagues felt that the near-electrocution moment was a bit over the top, but hey – some ideas are just too good to drop.
And that’s a moral which applies to the whole doubling, WW1-referring enterprise. So four each, but between them, they earn a fifth mouse.
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(and the CD is now released, both plays)
and a fifth director-mouse for the double…