This afternoon marked another Shakespearean afternoon in the company of Weasels. Actually, it was with some Weasels and a few others, given that half the Weasels were unable to attend. Still, the regulars were there (Lorna, Darren, John, Bev and I). We were joined by Lindy (who really should be a Weasel by this time), Tottie (who raced over from an actor’s union meeting to be with us), Esther, Amanda and Matt.
Today we watched Much Ado About Nothing, a play that Kenneth Brannagh filmed very successfully in 1993. So well, in fact, that every Beatrice will have to measure up to Emma Thompson and every Benedick to Ken, as far as I’m concerned, anyway. Actually I mentioned this to Lindy and Tottie just as it was starting and they agreed, saying I’d ruined it for mentioning it though.
As usual, the Globe staging was very minimal. This always works very well but, given they perform different plays in rep and need to strike the set after every performance, it’s an absolute boon. It was also very full. In keeping with our previous attendance, one of the audience members in the pit was taken ill and had to be hauled out during the performance. It amazes me that people will gladly stand up for hours watching Shakespeare. Still, it’s all part of the atmosphere for us in the boxes.
The play itself is one of Bill’s comedies and it has some very funny bits. Sadly, a lot of the humour is lost if you don’t understand Elizabethan metaphor. For instance, one of the central issues is a woman’s inconstancy, alluded to by the regular mention of the horns of cattle; the horns being symbolic of cuckoldry. This would be lost on the vast majority of the audience.
Even so, the humour, on the whole, worked very well, though sometimes a bit forced. I guess it’s a question of getting a laugh no matter what, which is fine but hardly clever.
I have read reviews that state the direction was very good. I can’t agree based on the performance I saw. Most of the play was directed forwards, as if the director had forgotten this wasn’t a proscenium arch space. This meant that we didn’t see a whole lot of the interaction between the characters, which is a shame, particularly given the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick.
Performance-wise, I thought Beatrice (Eve Best who plays Dr O’Hara in Nurse Jackie and Wallis Simpson in The King’s Speech) was excellent. She had a great energy on stage and her comic timing was spot on. She actually seemed to understand what she was saying the entire time she was speaking. Don’t get me wrong. Most of the time the actors know the sense of the words but they quite often are unable to convey the meaning to the audience who may be ignorant of the play.
There was a rather odd decision to have Benedick without a beard in the first half of the play. Given the speech that Beatrice makes about men with beards and boys with no beards and then the subsequent scene where Benedick has cut himself shaving because he has shaved his beard off, this surprised me.
The biggest problem with Much Ado is why Don John decides to break up the relationship between Hero and Claudio. The audience is left wondering why he’s such a horrid person given there’s no reason or excuse for his behaviour. In fact, Keanu Reeves, when he played Don John in the film was awarded the worst supporting actor razza because he was so wooden. I have read where poor Keanu was confused because he could find no reason for his actions in the play. Very understandable for a method actor.
Some explanation can be found in Don John’s background. He is the bastard brother of Don Pedro, a jolly sort of fellow, up for a jape or two. Pedro likes Claudio and helps him win Hero. He also helps conspire to get Beatrice and Benedick together. Don John appears (all in black and Scottish in this version, which meant we called him Jock McBastard) and decides to make mischief. Which he does by faking a liaison between Hero and a drunk mate of his. The thing is, it’s not Hero but Claudio sees them in a window at midnight and is convinced she has been unfaithful.
We then have an awful scene in the church, as they are about to be married, where Claudio accuses her of being unfaithful and throws her from him. Don Pedro immediately takes Claudio’s side and they decide to leave as soon as possible. Being Shakespeare, Hero is then instructed to pretend she is dead.
But this is all by the by. Don John has recently been estranged from his half brother, Pedro and, up until a short while ago, they didn’t like or trust each other. Why then does Pedro suddenly believe John and not Hero, who screams her innocence? Why didn’t Shakespeare create a reason for it? It would have been easy enough done. Don John feels hard done by because his brother has everything and he has nothing and so he exacts a sort of revenge on someone his brother loves in order to make everyone else as unhappy as he is. That’s pretty simple. But no, he doesn’t. Don John is a bastard and miserable with it. He just does it…for no reason, he just does. I think this is a weak way of creating a bit of drama in a very light hearted comedy. Particularly for the sake of a rhyming couplet or two.
Another annoying point is the fact that the woman who pretends to be Hero is, in fact, her maidservant, Margaret. Why doesn’t she come forward? Esther made the point that perhaps this was one in the eye for the aristocracy. Perhaps, but if so, it’s very subtle and Margaret is quite happy to romp and frolic with everyone for the rest of the play.
Still, for all that, it was very enjoyable and we laughed lustfully throughout and were the last ones out of the theatre as usual.
Of course, a Weasel visit to the Globe would not be complete without visiting a few pubs and sampling their wares. Unusually we didn’t roam around miles of streets looking for pubs that don’t actually exist but rather went to two pubs on southbank, either side of Blackfriar’s Bridge. We weren’t that keen on the Poacher but rather liked the variety on offer at the Doggett. This is a pub I have been to with Stevie, mainly because it opens earlier than any others on the southbank. The Doggett also won praise after John told us all what the name meant.
It is named after the Doggett’s Coat and Badge, which is the prize for and the name of the oldest rowing race in the world. It takes place on the Thames every July and runs for just over four miles. It dates back to the 18th century. It was originally the idea of an Irish actor called Thomas Doggett.
Eventually it was time for us all to head home so we started walking back towards London Bridge, dropping me off at Bankside ferry stop as I was staying at the flat.
In a nutshell, another great day out at the Globe.