theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
‘Tis the season of Panto – of gaudy Dames, Coronation Street starlets in breeches, and the promise of a shave-cream pie in the face. Yet a few brave parents and schoolteachers decided to forgo this Christmas rite and took their children to the RSC’s Much Ado About Nothing last night. Their decision was rewarded with the clamour of cheers and chortles, for this is without a doubt one of the funniest Shakespeare productions of recent years. And surely one of the most inclusive.
When the house opens, there is no safety curtain drawn – instead the Novello, festooned with strings of lights, resounds to the throb of a live Samba band. The applause for the band ushers in the players, and the mood of pure entertainment continues as the play pulses with spontaneous dance routines and musical interludes. The slapstick is well-judged; the finest purveyors of which are the inspirationally matched Tamsin Greig (Beatrice) and Joseph Millson (Benedick). It is of little wonder then that the younger members of the audience were so thrilled, and yet neither were the adults precluded from their own enjoyment in the sensual delights onstage.
The play is transported to Cuba, around 1953, and this setting affords a heady mixture of heat-induced sensuality meddled with pre-communist catholic values. Golden rum pours lavishly whilst the aroma of the onstage cigars encircles those in the very furthest seats. Into this world are thrown the off-duty military men, who quickly adjust to open-shirted decadence, and thus the stage is set for a potently sexual comedy of romantic entanglements. Greig’s striking angularity is squeezed into a black pencil skirt to complement her “poniard”-sharp wit, and composer Olly Fox has turned ‘Sigh no more, ladies’ into a sultry jazz number sung by a luscious Caribbean-lilted Balthazar (Yvette Rochester-Duncan).
The character of Don John is played masterfully by Jonny Weir, who, deeply-troubled, broken and embittered, stands in relief without military garb, sidelined in the carnival festivities and growing all the more powerful in hatred as those around him fall in love. It is just a shame that director Marianne Elliott decided to supplement this already mystifying man of few words by turning him into a Che Guevara-esque rebel, posing for effect with beret and gun as he makes his final exit.
After the failed wedding of Claudio and Hero, the stage is embellished with candles and Virgin idols, in sharp contrast with the edgy merriment that has come before. It is this dichotomy of hedonism and Catholicism that make the Havana setting so apt for a play of supposed lust and knowing virginity, and Elliott’s production is a must for the festive season.
Belinda Williams © 2006
Originally published on R&V 15-12-06
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