Monday, 23 July 2007

Much Ado about Something

On Friday my Aspiring Author friend and I went to an outdoor performance of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. It had been rainy weather all week (although nowhere near as bad as it's raining Down South) but it didn't rain on Friday and we made it through the performance without getting wet. The actors were pleased about that too - they'd been on tour for a number of weeks and this was only their seventh 'dry show'. Aspiring Author and I laid out my burst airbed (useless for sleeping on, but brilliant as a large waterproof outdoor rug) on the mud - despite it being a dry day, the grass was still boggy from the week's rain - and settled down in front of the loch, amongst the fold away chairs and picnic tables of other audience members to watch the performance. (A moment of panic coming back from a trip to the ladies before the performance started when I had lost Aspiring Author in the forest of such chairs and tables that had grown up in the brief time I was away.)

Illyria (the acting company) are very good. We've seen them before and were expecting great things. We weren't let down - although I think I preferred their performance of Comedy of Errors two years ago, maybe because I know Much Ado better and had a clearer idea of what I thought it should be. Occasionally the actor playing Benedick was a little too much Branagh-esque for me, but those moments were few and far between. There was an arresting moment when Don Pedro proposed to Beatrice and she turned him down. I've never thought about this as anything other than comic; Branagh's film version laughs it off immediately. Illyria chose to present it with all the awkwardness turning down a proposal from such an important man would have carried way back when... Leonato's anger when he heard Hero was unchaste was also extremely well done - the actor was very controlled, but gave out all the venom of Renaissance misogyny in the mouth of a let down and publicly embarrassed father.

All of the actors work very hard - there were only five of them playing all the parts, and playing different characters convincingly too. They even worked out ways to have two characters played by the same actor on stage at the same time. Very impressive. With only one woman in the cast taking the role of Beatrice (amongst others - the rest were male parts) the other female roles had to be taken by men, which is authentic for Shakespeare's time, but not often seen these days. They had a very clever matching up of characters whereby the actress playing Beatrice also played Claudio, and the actor playing Benedick also played Hero. I think that brought a new dimension to the play that I hadn't considered before. No one in the cast played fewer than three parts, and some took more than that. The cast also sell their own performance programmes and souvenirs, and mix with the audience at the end of the interval (they're quite fond of sharing your picnic - if you go to one of their performances, and I would recommend them, do take some spare strawberries!).

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, despite it getting a little chilly and the midges coming out to see what was going on.

I hope Illyria get more dry shows for the rest of the tour. They shouldn't have to work that hard and fight the weather.

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