By William Shakespeare
Directed by Iqbal Khan
Venue: Courtyard Theatre
Date: Monday 20th August 2012
There’s been a huge improvement in this production since we saw it last. The timing of the scene changes is quicker, and the whole cast is working very well together. I don’t know if the accents had been modified or whether we were more used to them, but the dialogue was clearer, and although I only noticed a few specific cuts, the running time was down to three hours (from three and a half!). Our angle tonight was different too, so I saw some things I hadn’t noticed before, while losing one or two other things. There’s a truly magic feel to the performance, and with a packed audience responding warmly to the action it was a tremendous evening.
No real changes to report for the pre-show business or the early scenes, although I spotted that Hero deliberately managed to bump into Claudio before she left with the rest of the household. Don John was also present when Don Pedro returned to Benedick and Claudio. He stayed skulking by the front steps; after Benedick left, he received a pointed look from his brother and reluctantly went through the doors at the back, closing them with sarcastic precision. Dogberry and Borachio came on stage to remove the fan which had been working throughout the opening scene, and took it to the back of the stage before finally removing it altogether. Dogberry didn’t have long to tell Antonio what he’d heard before Antonio reported it to Leonato, dismissing Dogberry at the same time.
After Don John’s scene, Beatrice, Hero, Ursula and Margaret came through the audience and onto the stage at the front, singing and wearing the soldier’s jackets. Leonato and Antonio came through the doors to meet them, and after some chat they were dressed up in the scarves, ready for the party. The conversations at the party were easier to see from this angle, although the continuing music made them harder to hear. The prince and Hero appeared on the balcony during the dance, celebrating, while Claudio came across more clearly as immature tonight; his petulance at what he thought the prince had done – wooing Hero for himself instead of Claudio – was a childish reaction, and there was every possibility that he would grow out of such tantrums in time.
We had learned from the director that kissing in front of one’s elders is still frowned upon in India, so when Beatrice told Hero to stop Claudio’s “mouth with a kiss”, Leonato intervened and Hero and Claudio stayed apart. Again Don John’s scene had no changes to report, and then Benedick arrived on stage for the first gulling scene. His delivery of the speech “I do much wonder that one man….” was a bit better than before, but still lacked the detail of previous productions, and only got a laugh at the very end. Balthazar sang as before, and the servant who was bringing Benedick his book was persuaded to join in the dancing. She was much too vigorous, and Claudio backed off when she started hitting him with her scarf. Benedick was up on the roof again tonight, but he was visible (just) and the maid’s antics helped the scene along, as Benedick doesn’t actually have any lines for a fair chunk of it. At the end of the scene, when Benedick was assessing the ‘revelations’ he’d just heard, he kept bending down to put one shoe on, then leaving it to speak another line. He managed to get them both on before Beatrice came to call him in to dinner.
The gulling of Beatrice was done as before, with Hero’s lines still a bit muffled by the speaker on the mobile. Verges spotted Beatrice, who had slid round to sit beside her, after the line “Yet tell her of it: hear what she will say”, and so her “O! do not do your cousin such a wrong” was said with Beatrice right beside her. Beatrice put her finger to her lips to tell Verges to be quiet at “His excellence did earn it, ere he had it”, which explained Verges’ sudden change of subject.
Benedick was brought on to the stage for the next scene by Dogberry, who seemed to be the very barber talked of a short while later. The prince made much of not recognising Benedick, and his appearance was very different. The interval was taken after Don John’s assertion of Hero’s disloyalty, which meant the wedding platform could be set up during the interval, saving a good deal of time.
The second half still started with Beatrice singing “Sigh no more” on the balcony, with Dogberry on guard down below. This was followed by the first part of the watch scene, up to Dogberry’s final exit. Then came the first part of the wedding preparations, up to the conclusion of Margaret’s jest about “the heavier for a husband”. Then Borachio and Conrad had their conversation and were arrested by the watch, after which Beatrice turned up and completed the scene with Hero and Margaret. Dogberry and Verges showed the two pairs of trousers to Leonato as before, and then we had the wedding scene.
I wasn’t aware of any changes to this, but our view of the action was much better. The guests were brought up from the audience as before, and Beatrice and Benedick were startled to find themselves giving garlands to each other. We clapped along to the music as everyone arrived and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The microphone was still being used, and the way it was being passed around, or rather grabbed by various people, was very funny. The Panditji moved over to the corner of the stage at “Stand thee by,” with one of the servants bringing over the stool that proved so awkward last time. I’m not sure if Benedick sat down on it tonight, so the people sitting over that way may have suffered less than we did.
The rest of the scene was as before, just clearer, and the scene between Beatrice and Benedick was just as strong. The examination of Borachio and Conrade was followed by the clearing of the wedding platform and the cloth streamers, which worked better tonight although it was still slow. Leonato and Antonio managed their lines without the servants’ activities being so distracting, and I’m sure they got the stage cleared a line or two earlier this time.
Antonio took off one of his shoes and used it to attack Claudio, in lieu of a proper challenge. Claudio threw the shoe on the ground, and when Antonio bent to pick it up he reacted to a twinge in his back – we older folk knew just how he felt, but we all laughed. Benedick was very stern with both the prince and Claudio, and refused to be drawn into their banter, while Borachio’s confession shocked the pair of them deeply. They cut Claudio’s lines “Rightly reasoned, and in his own division….”, and I noticed this time that Antonio nodded his head slightly when Leonato mentioned his ‘niece’. They also cut Margaret and Benedick’s lines “who I think has legs.” “And therefore will come” which I remember hearing last time. No wonder half an hour has vanished.
To set up the temple scene, the two side blocks of the building slid back and were pushed off to either side; hence the disappearance of the musicians. They stayed in the same place, but the place itself moved back stage. I spotted Hero on the stairs this time, and when it came to finding Beatrice, Benedick was absolutely frantic, running here and there, finally asking which she was. Beatrice then tried to run off, but was prevented by a crowd of people and returned to face it out. The line “Peace! I will stop your mouths” was given back to Leonato, from whom a succession of editors had stolen it, and the shock of this forced kiss startled the pair at first. Then, with most of the others off stage, they decided to have another go, and spent quite some time in a passionate snog. After the messenger had brought the news of Don John’s capture, and Benedick had promised to sort him out tomorrow, the play ended with the servant girl finally handing Benedick the book he’d asked for several acts ago. It was funny, and a good way to end the drama part of the evening, but of course there was the dance to enjoy before we left. And enjoy it we did.
Some final points: I saw that Hero embraced her father before heading off for her marriage, so all was well there too, and in one of the later scenes Claudio referred to Benedick as “Bendy-dick” – Steve reckoned he heard this variation earlier as well. I did have a few sniffles this evening – emotions rather than a cold – but there was definitely more laughter than tears which is as it should be.
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me