It's no secret that I have endless love for the Royal Shakespeare Company. This love has been blooming within me since I first experienced their magic years ago when I studied Drama GCSE. Since then I've taken every opportunity to see their flawless creations. This year I was fortunate in that I got to see and review every one of their shows at the Barbican Theatre ('Doctor Faustus', 'The Alchemist', 'Cymbeline' and 'King Lear') and the most fantastic 'Much Ado' I ever did see at the Haymarket. I'll be reviewing that in this post, but I must start it by saying thank you RSC, for being so excellent always.
(Source: my excellent Twitter. Obvs.)
Cool. Now, let's crack on with some reasons you simply must see 'Much Ado About Nothing' by the Royal Shakespeare Company while it's at the Haymarket Theatre, running alongside 'Love's Labours Lost'!
It's the best Shakespeare comedy.
Bold statement I know, but goddamn I will fight anyone who says differently. 'Much Ado' has always been my favourite Shakespeare of all time ever but I understand you may argue with that given his endless list of iconic tragedies...so let's agree on it being his best comedy? I take your silence here as a yes. Good.
I was lucky enough to perform in a mad Scratch Shakespeare production of this a few years ago, and it was the most fun I'd ever had on stage and off.
This play has everything. Naive young romance, verbal sparring matches, secrecy, jealous seething plotting, a wedding, a faked death, a big reveal or two, and silly character names (Ursula and Hero? Really...?).
'Much Ado' is apparently the most performed Shakespeare. Well, naturally. And the RSC most definitely do it justice!
It seemed so traditional at first, but as the play progressed it was flipped and swapped around smoothly and brilliantly. Scenes would literally fade out into the background, the actors still moving and talking quietly as their set moved backwards and eventually disappeared behind the new scene. Very nice touch.
(Photo by Manuel Harlan for the RSC)
The love story.
No, I don't mean Claudio and Hero. It may shock you, but their love story if actually not the main focus of this comedy. I mean, it's cute and it's a good backdrop, but the real deal? It's Benedick and Beatrice. The two may spar and smack at each other verbally to begin with, and that's always delightful to see, but then (spoiler alert) when they fall madly in love, it's hardly a surprise.
Benedick is, without a doubt, one of my favourite characters not just in this play but in all of Shakespeare's works. So, as you can imagine, my expectations for the actor playing Benedick are crazy high. The RSC's guy Edward Bennett was...awesome. His casual mocking was fun to watch and his sarky tone was on point; his comic timing was excellent and his physical comedy not at all over-the-top slapstick. He also did wonderfully in his character's more sincere and tender moments, bringing out the hidden, gentle side of Benedick.
Beatrice is my hero (heh heh, Hero. Get it?). I used to dream of someday playing her. Her wit is second to none and her stubbornness, her refusal to conform and get herself a hubby, is damn near magical. Lisa Dillon did something amazing with the character as well. My actor pal Luke who came along to watch this with me said during the interval, and I agreed: she gave Beatrice more depth. She wasn't just a sarky feminist, she was quite secretly a sad and somewhat lonely human. Her delivery of the line 'he gave it me a while, and I gave him use for it...' broke my heart a little bit. Because you could see a little glimmer of wanting...a secret wish for some loving.
The idiot policeman.
Holy &*%! Dogberry was perfect. He's another favourite character of mine, and can be played in many different ways – for instance, Michael Keaton in the classic 1993 film was super simple and, well, simple. Just dumb af. But then the Scratch production I performed in, back in 2014, saw Dogberry hilariously narrating the story and orchestrating all the interactions, pulling all the strings and making jokes as he did it.
This Dogberry, Nick Haverson, brought another level to the seemingly stupid character. Yes, he was stupid, but he was also...delicate?! He had little spasms between lines and sometimes deliberately stumbled on words – at first I thought it must be for an extra layer of comedy, but then I realised he was perhaps making this silly old boy detective somewhat sad and way more loveable. His physical comedy was excellent, too. I'd pay to see him and Edward Bennett put on a show together simply messing about and knocking things over...food for thought, guys.
As I said before, this play is fun. It's the best comedy. It's silly, it's heart warming, it's adorable and it's witty. Watching it on Thursday night, I was honestly giggling and grinning the whole way through.
And y'know what's great? You can see the actors having fun with it. Enjoying their characters – and their characters' escapades. When Benedick gets an electric shock hiding behind a Christmas tree; when Hero is gossiping with her friend knowing full well Beatrice is listening; when Don Pedro puts on his mask and grins most gleefully – you feel their excitement and relish their enjoyment. You have fun.
Thanks again, RSC. Spending the night with you is always a pleasure I am hardly worthy of...let's hope our cheeky affair and adventures continue into 2017!
If you want to see 'Much Ado About Nothing' and 'Love's Labours Lost' at the Haymarket Theatre in this perfect double bill, then there's still time! These two excellent shows are running until the 18th of March, 2017.
(Had to include this; me as Hero in 2014, with my perf cast mates.)