Much Ado About Nothing

I’m just back from Much Ado About Nothing, the first play I’ve seen since moving to Stratford. I decided on Monday that I should really put some effort into seeing various shows of The Complete Works before they close, and managed to pick up a last minute-ticket for tonight’s performance. It must have been one of very few remaining, as the system wouldn’t sell me two. There were various plays I was interested in, but my main motivation for seeing Much Ado was the presence of Tamsin Greig as the quick-witted, sexy Beatrice, as it seemed like she’d fit the part perfectly. And she did.

I hadn’t been to the Swan Theatre before. I imagine everybody but me knew what to expect, but it came as a real surprise. I expected it to be like the RST and any other theatre, but found that the stage is in the centre, with three levels surrounding it. I was on the first gallery, where you hop onto fairly high seats with your legs dangling. It was strangely fun, and I certainly felt more involved with the play than I do in larger venues.

Swan Theatre Interior

Tonight’s performance was ‘open-captioned’, meaning the words were displayed on an LED screen in-time with the play. Unfortunately the screen failed to work during the first half, and an RSC representative actually apologised to everybody for the resulting commotion. I hadn’t noticed, but I can imagine it would have been frustrating for anybody with hearing problems. I suspect there was some kind of compensation, since open-captioned performances are infrequent.

This interpretation of Much Ado was set in the 1950s, with the associated glamourous atmosphere of classily-dressed people in smoky bars. I’m a sucker for this era, probably because it seems so romantic, and couldn’t help but smile when I saw the set. The theatre was filled with a slight haze to add to this atmosphere, and it extended through the foyer, making the theatre look almost magical from a distance.

I really, really enjoyed the play. I studied Much Ado during my A-Levels, but never actually saw it performed live and this was a revelation. It’s remarkable how much more more natural the dialogue seems on stage – even compared to the Kenneth Branagh film version – and there were many occasions where an inflection, pause or facial expression made me pick up on a meaning I hadn’t spotted previously, particularly in Beatrice and Benedick’s frequent verbal battles. I liked that it was serious enough to be moving, and very funny without descending into inanity (I hate farce). I’ve certainly never laughed so much before – I didn’t know it was possible for it to be that funny, to be honest. The cast were all very good, but Tamsin Greig was, as ever, great. She wasn’t the only famous name: there was also the guy from the thing, which will hopefully come to me in the next couple of days.

Definitely a great evening out, and I highly recommend it.