Much Ado About Nothing

1 Feb

Needless to say, this is not new work. The play was written in 1598. It’s been performed a few times since then.

This production, by director Deborah Mulhall, is fun and intriguing.

When you choose to produce a play like this you’re in an interesting situation. Your audience will be made up of a whole range of people, some of who virtually know the play off-by-heart and others who are experiencing it for the first time. You’re either in conversation with a vast tradition or casting fresh magic.

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Photo by Grant Fraser

 

Mulhall finds in the play not just the oft played “merry war” between the sexes but also the fight for equal rights for women. There’s scriptural basis for this. Beatrice makes the impassioned plea “Oh God, that I were a man!” But the nub of this interpretation is the characterization of Hero. Here’s her journey in a nut shell (yes, a spoiler): She’s wary of marrying her suitor, but accepts him anyway. She then happily helps in the light-hearted plot to get a husband for her cousin. At her own wedding, she is defamed by her foolish fiance, and is so shocked she struggles to defend herself. When her husband-to-be is forced to acknowledge his breathtaking injustice, she criticizes him for his behavior, and marries him anyway. And then in the final moments she playfully teases her cousin for falling in love. Back and forth between refusal and acceptance of societal expectations; which is no problem, except Shakespeare only gives her sixty lines to do it in. Catherine Lewis as Hero is wonderful, an engaging stage presence, but if the character is to symbolize the struggle to end gender inequality perhaps the role is being asked to do too much. If you’re part of the great conversation with the text, it’ll give you plenty to talk about into the night. See it and make up your own mind.

But, as I said earlier, it’s an enjoyable night. Mulhall elicits some good performances from her cast. The comedy works well – not always an easy feat with Shakespeare.  The two characters who have long dominated the way the play is received, Beatrice and Benedict, are played marvelously by Emma Wright and Ted Crosby. They‘re articulate, charming and smart.

Possibly Shakespeare’s greatest insight into the human condition is that love, which can seem a type of madness, doesn’t necessarily make us stupid. We can both woe and be wise.

Paul Gilchrist

Much ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Genesian Theatre til 25th February

Tix and info  here

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