Much Ado Times Two
London audiences can take in two star-studded productions of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.
As the play's word-bashing Dogberry says, "Comparisons are odorous." So let's just say that theatergoers shouldn't pass up either opportunity to see these fine actors as the wise-cracking Beatrice and Benedick, who size each other up and cut each other down until they realize they're in love.
Over at Wyndham's, director Josie Rourke has set the Bard's proceedings in sunny 1980s post-Falklands War Gibraltar, stressing the period's knockabout fashions, including the not-so-knockabout wedding dress Diana wore for her much-publicized nuptials. While Benedick shows up in a golf cart with an ooga-ooga horn and sometimes wears a Superman t-shirt, others carry an inflatable sex doll or work a Rubik's Cube or flourish a Diana mask, and Beatrice sometimes insults her man in flip-flops and denim coveralls.
Most noticeably, there's nothing subtle about the scenes during which the couple's pals deliberately talk loudly about how Benedick loves Beatrice and vice versa. And what Rourke contrives as both lovers overhear the news as they hide themselves behind designer Robert Jones' four tall square columns is outrageously funny -- not least when Benedick smears himself with white paint and Beatrice is hoist on a painter's pulley.
If the dark side of Much Ado About Nothing -- the humiliation of Hero (Sarah MacRae) by Claudio (Tom Bateman) -- is usually much ado about something, it comes to little ado here. Instead, the audience is treated to consistently raucous fun.
In this version, played very much to -- and often with -- the audience, it's Benedick who's literally up a tree when eavesdropping on Claudio (Philip Cumbus) and pals discussing Beatrice's supposed love for him. He's the one for whom a pulley provides a handy sight gag. Beatrice learns of Benedick's supposed infatuation from behind a sheet draped over a clothesline.