Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing

Frances Dharmalingam, our Fearless Leader, has had the good fortune to see both stage and film versions of the Globe's production of Much Ado. Here are her thoughts and impressions:

Having been enchanted by a performance of Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe Theatre in 2011, I was delighted to learn that a film of that very production would be screened here in Perth, and hot-footed it to the cinema for another joyous experience.

The verve, charm and good humour of the production were immediately apparent, together with the colour and grace of the costumes and set. The audience was readily and completely involved, thanks to the skill of the actors, who played so directly to all corners of the house.

The lovers were perfectly cast and interacted brilliantly with each other, while making the audience deliciously complicit in their every thought. Given a certain style of delivery, their dialogue might come across as abrasive and could lose the onlookers' sympathy, but this Beatrice and Benedick had such charm. Under all the feisty words they suggested such touching vulnerability that all we wanted was for them finally to face reality and fall into each other’s arms.

The comedy was wildly, eye-wateringly funny. During the eavesdropping scenes the lovers balanced humour and tantalising suspense, with Beatrice ducking and weaving among the washing on the line, and Benedick dodging round the pillars and finally climbing an extremely high fruit tree (from which he made a spectacular descent by rope when a servant casually removed the ladder). The Night Watch were a mis-matched awkward squad who relied as much on mime and delightfully inventive use of props as on dialogue for their well-deserved laughs. Clever casting contrasted a very short, deadpan and smugly officious Dogberry with an extremely tall and shamblingly impassive Vergis.

The darker side of the play tempered the merriment with Don John's saturnine jealousy, and the shock of physical and emotional violence, but it passed quickly with the assurance that matters could be put right. The action progressed smoothly through the priest's plan, the revelations of the Watch and Claudio's repentance, to a fittingly happy and boisterous ending.

These were my responses to both the live and the filmed performances, but there were, of course, some differences. The film relied much upon close-up shots, which allowed even greater appreciation of the actors' expressive faces and by-play with the audience, but as a result views of the whole setting were sometimes sacrificed. On such a wide stage, and with the comic interactions within large groups of performers, I felt that we lost some of the broader effects, in focussing so closely on particular speakers. Of course, I might not have thought about this had I not been lucky enough to see the stage version.

In thinking over the whole lovely production, my lasting impression (which was even more evident in the film) was of the wonderful use of silence. The lines were delivered with masterly sense of rhythm, meaning and emotion, and all the actors displayed admirable control of pace and timing, using pause both for suspense prior to making a point, and equally for allowing the point to have its impact after the spoken words.

A recipient of the Olivier Award for Best Actress, Eve Best, played the role of Beatrice.

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