“There was a star danced, and under that I was born”
Much Ado About Nothing fans really are in for a treat this summer with two major productions running on either side of the river. The blockbuster version at the Wyndhams has the starrier casting to be sure but there is real delight to be had Bankside too as the Globe have tempted Eve Best from the world of American television (if only for a limited time) to star alongside Charles Edwards in this more traditional, but perhaps more engaging version of this most romantic of Shakespeare’s comedies. Claudio and Hero’s relationship is at the centre of this play and how Don John’s machinations threaten to thwart their true love, but it is in their friends Benedick and Beatrice’s sparring and refusal to admit their mutual love that really elevates this play into something special and that is what we have here at the Globe.
What is comes down to is the most delightful performance from Eve Best as Beatrice, my first opportunity to see her on stage and one which you should not miss. Unafraid to show the vulnerable, almost desperate side to the character as well as the customary sparky humour that serves as her distancing technique, she envelops every single member of the audience in her confiding embrace and I loved her from the start, even whilst cruelly dashing Don Pedro’s hopes. Charles Edwards’ rather foppish Benedick is a brilliant counterpart too, whose public school mannerisms are hilarious and an almost effective way of keeping his heart from bruising. And together they make a beautifully well-matched couple whose eventual union really gladdens the heart.
Philip Cumbus’ Claudio is a bombastic, blokey portrayal, unable to socialise with women and much more comfortable in the presence of men, an interpretation that worked though did feel a little schizophrenic at times. Ony Uhiara’s Hero was quietly moving though her performance could have done with a little more expansion in all areas, maximising the unique opportunities the Globe stage offers. Joseph Marcell and Ewan Stewart were both good as the (oddly) contemporaneous Leonato and Don Pedro respectively, and John Stahl is just one of those mellifluous actors I could watch for days, here as Antonio and Hugh Oatcake.
Not everything about the production works though. Biggest offender for me was Paul Hunter’s Dogberry, one of those broadly slapstick physical performances that the Globe is often guilty of and close to unwatchable for me: the tic with his leg was cringe-worthy I tell you. Casting Don Pedro to be (visually at least) more of a contemporary to Leonato was an odd decision and combined with the very isolationist approach to Don John’s portrayal, there was little sense of cohesive comradeship between this band of brothers – something the white naval uniforms at the Wyndhams did most effectively.
Holding the two Much Ados against each other too much though is ultimately a rather disingenuous exercise, they are two distinct beasts working in completely different theatrical spaces and it must be said, with different audiences. Many would undoubtedly argue that this is the better version but for, I feel, the wrong reasons, as there are aspects of both productions that are excellent and innovative, but equally there are facets that don’t necessarily work: my ideal would be a pick’n’mix hybrid combining elements from both! In the end, I do think this Globe one is probably the subtly stronger, for the relationship between actors and audience, especially the groundlings, is so perfectly pitched here to create the kind of experience that made me want to book again right away (even despite the freaky giant puppets) and to get myself into the position to be the one that Best’s Beatrice confides in: I need this to happen!