“How much better is it to weep at joy than to joy at weeping”
Sometimes I have aspirations of being a serious writer and sometimes, I just want to look at something pretty. And so once it had been established that Simon Bubb was lighting up the stage of the Globe in the touring production of Much Ado About Nothing, #SexyBenedick was born and I quickly got myself into a nearly-sold-out matinée performance to inspect the evidence personally. And it was true, he makes for a most handsome leading man indeed and as it turned out, the play wasn’t half bad either.
I can’t even take credit for the best bit of insight about it. @3rdspearcarrier identified its key success as egalitarianism, this being the first version of the play for a long time that hasn’t been a star vehicle for Beatrice and Benedick and with a cast of eight doubling up and more, the energy of Max Webster’s production emphasises how much of an ensemble show it really is. With the rough and tumble aesthetic of James Cotterill’s easily portable design, there’s something deliciously playful about the whole affair which made it an absolute delight to watch in the early May sunshine.
The play has been trimmed and tucked into a shade over two and a half hours and necessity being the mother of invention, there’s a couple of liberties taken especially where Joy Richardson is concerned as she plays both Margaret and Borachio as well as Friar Francis but by and large, the changes work. Robert Pickavance transforms with ease from Leonato to a playful Ursula, Chris Starkie’s scowling Don John quickly becomes a Scottish Dogberry full of humour and there was much to enjoy in Sam Phillips’ charismatic take on rapscallion Claudio.
Nevertheless, the stars of Benedick and Beatrice do dance brightly and in the hands of Bubb and Emma Pallant, they’re a gorgeous couple. Funny when eavesdropping – not letting oranges or water get in their way – there’s also a deep emotional intelligence to the way in which they interpret their lines and the shared past that has shaped these two characters so much, so that their eventual reunion is simply beautiful, a powerful moment of genuine truth that is as surprising as it is tear-jerking.
The customary musicality of these small-scale productions remains another strong suit, song and dance used effectively as the cast take turns on a range of instruments – accordion, guitar, tambourine etc – to provide the party atmosphere where needed, especially in the well-conceived banquet scene. So everyone’s a winner really – if you’re shallow, there’s something nice to look at and as a bonus, there’s a pretty brilliant interpretation breathing new life into a much-loved classic.