Year of Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

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This post is part of Year of Shakespeare, a project documenting the World Shakespeare Festival, the greatest celebration of Shakespeare the world has ever seen.

 

Much Ado about Nothing, Compagnie Hypermobile, dir. Clément Poirée, 1 June 2012 at The Globe, London

By Paul Edmondson, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

I heard a striking statistic as I was leaving the show. London is the sixth largest French city, on account of the number of French people who live there. Certainly there was a strong French presence in the audience for Compagnie Hypermobile’s Much Ado About Nothing.

This production was characterised by its clarity and its straightforwardness. There were no ostensible gimmicks (such as the nipple-clamps, trampoline, skateboard, and Gloria Gaynor which were to follow in the Bremer Shakespeare Company’s Timon of Athens); there were no elements of design nor acting which came between the story-telling and the audience’s reception of it. Yet there were thoughtful interpretative touches to be seen in the costuming, make-up and props which resonated crisply and added to an overall sense of a finely contoured and properly thought through narrative drive.

Benedick (Bruno Blairet) and Beatrice (Alix Poisson) were clearly destined for each other. Unlike Prince Don Pedro and his entourage (who entered in strikingly handsome adaptations of evening dress, with slightly whitened faces suggestive of a troupe of demure mime artistes), Benedick sported a purple tartan kilt and postured himself awkwardly, differently, with his exquisitely over-long goatee beard sticking up diffidently as though his chin were pointing, way above our heads, at a bird or a plane (both literal realities at the Globe). Beatrice was almost cross-dressed, in Flapper-like tweed trousers, a brown jersey, shirt and tie. The two of them behaved like misfits. Beatrice over-demonstrated everything she was talking about, a young woman, craving attention, who knows what it is to hold her family as her audience around her. She covered herself in a white sheet and evoked something angel-like when she imagined herself going up to the ‘heavens…where the bachelors sit’ (2.1.42-3). Benedick danced on his own at the masqued-ball, flapping his kilt lightly in a lonely, rather pathetic flamenco. We all of us seemed to feel the relief when, after their respective eavesdropping scenes, the two of them changed their costume: Benedick into purple tartan trousers, with his goatee gone; Beatrice into a silky slim dress.

Don Juan (Nicolas Chupin, clevery and efficiently doubled with Verjus the watchman) sought comfort from a bright-blue liquor, dispensed for him by Borachio (Francois de Brauer, there was no Conrad). Chupin managed to convey an exhausted anger as the malcontent, illegitimate, royal brother, flinging himself to the floor only to be caught, held and assisted by Borachio. It was emotional contouring of this kind that evoked Much Ado About Nothing as being a humours play; this Don Juan and Borachio were definitely choleric and melancholy.

There was a touch-edged sexuality portrayed. Borachio mimed making love to Margaret in Beatrice’s clothes for Don Juan from the centre balcony. Is was masterly done. De Bauer’s Borachio convincingly mimed thrusting Margaret from behind which he followed with a thundering orgasm. It was comic, outrageous, and utterly convincing. Margaret (Aurelie Toucas) playing her part in the eavesdropping scene with Hero (Suzanne Aubert, there was no Ursula) simulated orgasm with a shrill soprano note, the final moment of oral proof that secured Beatrice’s trust. I recall, too, a strong trinity of women – Hero in her wedding dress, standing on a chair, with Beatrice and Margaret on either side – downstage, centre. These women were played as self-knowing, and knowingly flirtatious, as much as with each other as with the audience.

These crackles of sexuality were accompanied by true love. Laurent Menoret’s older than usual Claudio was visibly made vulnerable when sharing confidences about his feelings for Hero with Matthieu Marie’s Don Pedro. When she was presented to him for marriage, he solemnly went on bended knee and placed a ring on her (2.1.288-90). Beatrice’s only moment of verse – her truncated sonnet soliloquy after she overheard Margaret and Hero (3.1.107-116) – was properly and tenderly honoured, as were hers and Benedick’s confessions of love in the chapel after the broken wedding (4.1.269-274). These were all valuable moments of important sentiment.

Directors and actors often misunderstand Dogberry. There is no great secret other than making sure that you never, ever try to make him funny. Alas, the moment Raphael Almosni’s Dogberry appeared (with Verjus from the trapdoor) I knew we were in trouble. They appeared, absurdly attired as over-the-hill quasi-medieval superheroes, acting too slowly and exaggerating everything. I felt no affection, no amusement, and no truth. But you’re stuck with the Dogberry you are given, and he must do certain things to take us to where we want to be. Almosni’s Dogberry, however, was interestingly doubled with Antonio, the priestly brother of Leonato. Antonio took on the role of the Friar as Antonio and officiated at the wedding. This meant that as well as discovering mischief while on watch duty, the same actor, as Hero’s uncle, helped to rescue his niece from social disgrace. Perhaps only a brother who is also a priest could have intervened as this Antonio did to stop Jean-Claude Jay’s splendidly patriarchal Leonato from striking his daughter Hero with a dagger, as she lay on the chapel floor (4.1.151-156).

Finally, mention should be made of the sheer exuberance and precision with which the language was spoken. I wondered and worried from time to time whether Jude Lucas’s translation, ‘Beaucoup De Bruit Pour Rien’, was too literal. So, for instance, there was Benedick’s ‘Le monde doit être peupler’. Is that really as funny or as meaningful as ‘the world must be peopled’ (2.3.229-230), or might a more French equivalent have been sought? On balance, I think Lucas was willing to honour as much of Shakespeare’s text as possible, its literal meanings as well as its rhythms and rhetorical shapes. I just wonder how far, to a French ear, this translation sounded like French on its best behaviour.

Two incidental Globe moments resonate in my memory of this production. As Hero fainted (4.1.109.1), a mother blackbird flew into the auditorium feeding one of her young. And, as Benedick started to compose his abortive song, an aeroplane flew over (5.2.25). But these potential interruptions only enhanced the clarity and diction of this precise and Parisian Much Ado About Nothing. At the end there was lots of noise about something – the rapturous applause from all the French and everyone else assembled in Shakespeare’s Globe.

 

Here are some immediate responses to the show from two students of The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, who kindly let me record them:

 

What do you think of this interpretation of Shakespeare? Add your thoughts to the discussion below!

 

To read more reviews of the performances and events that are a part of the World Shakespeare Festival, visit Year of Shakespeare.

Want to watch this production online? Click on the image below to watch it for free at THE SPACE:

Want to know what other audience members thought of the production? Listen below to interviews with some of them:

Listen below to an interview with the director, recorded by the Globe Education Department:

 

Here’s what the online community are saying about this production:

 

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson

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