By William Shakespeare
Directed by Marianne Elliot
Venue: Swan Theatre
Date: Friday 8th September 2006
For the first half, I felt this was the best ever production of anything I’d ever seen, anywhere. I was going to revise my star ratings to give this eleven! Then the second half opened with Dogberry, and the soufflé collapsed. To be fair, this was one of the better Dogberry’s I’ve seen, so it didn’t collapse far, and I would still recommend everybody on the planet to see this production at least sixteen times before they die.
To start with, all the dialogue was delivered so clearly, and with such good understanding of what was being said, that I understood the play far better than I ever have before, and I got all of the jokes, which is no mean feat. The setting worked brilliantly. Pre-Castro Cuba, with lots of heat, bars and cigars, the air was steamy long before the lovers got going. We were entertained to some Latin-American music from the band before the start, and there was plenty more during the show as well.
I can’t possibly note up everything that happened, so here’s a jumble of thoughts and memories. Benedick as a moving pot plant – totally over the top and brilliantly done. We laughed so much at this, that the following eavesdropping scene, with Beatrice, felt a bit flatter, but Beatrice managed to go one better than Benedick and actually creep right up to the bench that Ursula was sitting on. Ursula even put her hand, accidentally, on Beatrice’s, and had to pretend not to notice. Before that, we had a slightly predictable joke when Beatrice moved next to the Vespa parked on stage, and naturally set off the horn. Little bit obvious, but still enjoyable. My favourite part was at the beginning of that scene, when Beatrice enters from the side, and runs along the front of row A to hide at the back, hopefully not treading on anyone’s toes.
Benedick winking at the Duke to get him to insist on Benedick revealing all about Claudio. Borachio’s interest in Hero, causing his jealousy and hence the assistance he gives to Don John. Borachio actually spends time with Hero, which we don’t see Claudio do till after the Duke’s done the deal.
The tempo eases down in the second half, partly because Dogberry is played at a slow pace, and partly because the story gets a lot darker. I realised that what brings Beatrice and Benedick together in this section is the seriousness of what happens to the people they care about – they’re not able to joke about this stuff, and so they’re able to express their truer feelings about each other as well. Once the problems are resolved, they’re back to sniping at each other again, but too late to deny their feelings.
The crunchy floor isn’t particularly noisy in this production – must be the soles of their shoes. Still sticks to everything, though.
Dogberry was OK, making him better than most I’ve seen. I even found some of his jokes funny. Verges we were already familiar with from a couple of seasons at Chichester, and I enjoyed what there was of the part. The watch were good, hiding out amongst the audience to overhear Borachio and Conrad, but on the whole I preferred the YPS watch – they made much more of them, although it was a shorter version.
The second half was more moving. I always feel for Hero in her suffering after the false accusation. This time, Margaret, realising what she’s been involved in, runs from the church, really upset. They made a lot of some pearls which Claudio gives Hero, and to my mind, Hero was just a bit too interested in them rather than the man. Not sure this is going to be a happy marriage for Claudio (but then, does he deserve one?)
Masks for the first ball – the Prince has a lion mask, Benedick a monkey, and Claudio a clown, all very appropriate.
One quibble about the scene with Benedick in his floral shirt – it’s clear he’s changed, and shaved his beard, so perhaps the Prince could have played it up as a bit more of a joke – there’s no ‘discovery’ of the changes, so no need to play it straight.
Wonderful use of a megaphone to bid Benedick “come in to supper”, especially as Beatrice is standing about a foot in front of him at the time. His reaction to this summons was wonderful too – his conviction that there’s a double meaning in her words was beautifully insane and another one of the many funny moments in this production.
© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me