Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

This was my first time at Shakespeare's 'faithfully reconstructed open-air playhouse' in London's South Bank. We've been meaning to go for years, but for some reason never got around to it. Since we now live in the city, there seemed to be no excuse, especially as this production by Jeremy Herrin starred the talented Eve Best (of King's Speech, The Shadow Line and Nurse Jackie) as the sharp-tongued and quick-witted Beatrice.

Eve Best as Beatrice. Photo The Telegraph
The venue, the site of Shakespeare's theatre, which was originally built in 1599 is worth seeing in its own right, and it was obvious some of the teenagers in their school uniforms would have been happier with a quick tour of the place rather then seeing a whole play. Many a time during the three-hour performance I saw a couple of girls being led away from the doorway by a teacher turned security guard as they tried to leave the auditorium below. The poor youngsters felt the full force of a British summer too; it rained on several occasions, forcing the audience standing in the 'yard' to shelter under their plastic capes.

The modern entrance to The Globe

The Globe as seen from the banks of The Thames
There were many tourists too; it was a full house during a Tuesday afternoon matinee. We had seats in the front row of the upper gallery, the third tier of the theatre. I'd be lying if I said the seats, even with the addition of the rented cushions, were comfortable, but the quality of production was such that the three hours just flew by.

At the interval the sun shone on us.
Both Eve Best as Beatrice and her sparring partner, Benedick played by Charles Edwards, held the audience in the palms of their hands as they fired intelligent insults at each other, while both disclosing to the audience that the wit was there only to shield their hearts from hurt. When a trick is played upon the two reluctant lovers, convincing them of the other's passion, their eventual happy reunion is sincere and moving.

Eve Best and Charles Edwards. Photo The Telegraph.
A sudden tragic turn of the play, when Beatrice's cousin is wrongly accused of infidelity by her groom on their wedding day, hits the audience very hard indeed. Beatrice asks her new found love to kill the former fiance. When Benedick, with a heavy heart, agrees to the task, the audience, who just a few moments ago had been roaring with laughter, falls silent.

Eve Best (Beatrice) Ony Uhiara (Hero) Helen Weir (Ursala) Photo: ©Alastair Muir via The Telegraph
As well as intelligent words the play also included some not so excellent comedy acts. I know it's all part and parcel of the play in its original form to have a sketch in the middle, but here I felt Paul Hunter's fool of a sherif act with strange gestures and a dumb, dishevelled army just didn't work.

As a whole, though, this production at The Globe of Much Ado About Nothing, was a huge success. The design of the stage, with pools of water at the edge, a garden and large wooden doors at the back, was perfectly evocative of an Italian village circa 1600. Together with the costumes and music, the atmosphere made you feel as if you'd been transported to Elizabethan times.

I definitely want go back to The Globe - it may be too late for this season but certainly for the next one starting in April 2012.