Given that Marianne Elliott, and Associate Director at the National, brought her sensational production of Much Ado to London last year, it is perhaps surprising That Nick Hytner has sceduled it again so soon. The obvious draw is the pairing of Zoe Wanamaker and Simon Russell Beale as Beatrice and Benedick. Both are excellent but the first half comedy is not as uproariously funny as the RSC version and SRB's air of charming campdoes not fit entirely well in this context. In contrast, Act 2 which focusses on Claudio and the grievously wronged Hero is brilliant. The performances of Oliver Ford Davies, David Hawksford and the beautiful Susannah Fielding are exceptional. What a dramatic improvement Miss Fielding has made since she was miscast in The Rose Tattoo last year, she is now a talent to look out for. Unfortunately the design imposed some appalling sightlines, the second time a Hytner production has suffered from this irritant - as Artistic Director he should know better. - David Baxter
22 Mar 08
For a student, the idea of sitting through another Shakespeare play was chliling. How oft must we see actors either too old and too dull to negotiate the set, or too young and vapid so that they much less interact as stand on stage eyes to the sky recalling some words they dont quite understand...its a wonder there are any of us youngies left that understand that when things are good... theyre very very good. And this play was FANTASTIC! SRB has the ease and grace of someone half his age, and I still managed to fall in love with him. Zoe wannamaker endures dubious writing in 'my family' weak after week, so to see her on form was brilliant. The rest of the cast, not only a delightful surprise as each entered and made us laugh, or want to boo and hiss as if we were in the yard ourselves. LOved the setting, the lighting was great, Pool. say no more. The only complaint I have is those damn mobile phone people. Suspend reality for three hours... nothing is that important! Final thoughts: a must-see; thankyou to greenwich university for organising such a wonderful night at the national! - Sarah W
17 Jan 08
Its probably just me but I dont understand all of this five star business. This production is ok and thats about it. It boasts two brilliant central performances from Wannamaker and Russel Beale but I felt the production didnt truly serve the play. Particularly the beggining, this is supposed to be a joyus sun kissed return of the soldiers, instead I felt like I was watching a play set in soviet Russia. Obvious use of a pond in the middle of the stage also left me cold, it was funny once but dont repeat it.
11 Jan 08
After last year's deeply satisfying RSC 'Cuban' Much Ado, I wasn't sure I wanted to see it again so soon, but the combination of Nicholas Hytner directing and Simon Russell Beale / Zoe Wannamaker as B&B was irresistible and how glad I am I succumbed to temptation. This will go down in history as one of the great interpretations of Shakespeare. Sometimes you absorb only a portion of Shakespeare's verse, but here you relish every word. There are laughs where you don't normally get laughs. There are deeply moving moments when the auditorium is perfectly silent. It zips along but you don't lose a thing. There isn't a fault in the casting (Mark Addy and Trevor Peacock as Dogberry and Verges is luxury casting indeed) and of course the two central performances exceeed our expectations bigtime. To see just the head of an actor, acting with his eyes alone, bring the house down is seeing a master at his craft. The chemistry between them is terrific. Hearing the cheering of youngsters at the end made me jealous that I had to wait so long into adulthood for stuff like this but thrilled I live in a country which now makes quality like this accessible to kids. Perfection. - Gareth James
11 Jan 08
I don’t normally take time to review pantomimes, but I had to share my excitement over the wonderfully produced and executed panto, Dick Whittington at the January 5th Hackney Empire theatre (matinee). To put it bluntly, I thought I’d seen it all in the way of panto, as a school teacher who makes annual pilgrimages to pantos with his students, I had no appetite to see yet another one. So I went, (more like was dragged) half kicking, half screaming, by my wife who frankly, wouldn’t shut up about Sophia Ragavelas. My argument for not going was simply this; if Sophia was really that special, she couldn’t possibly shine in a panto as my wife alleges she did starring as Sophie in Mamma Mia. After all, how much can one shine amidst a bunch of slapstick with the occasional song and dance routine thrown in between custard pie gags?
Firstly, no matter how predictable or formulaic the genre, this production was a refreshing reminder that well-timed jokes, well-sung songs and well-danced dances are still a delight. Sophia Ragavelas is the consummate performer who sings and dances as if she were imported from some fairyland of perfectly polished panto performers (pardon the alliteration). Even though this panto was the furthest thing from provincial community theatre, it might as well have been when contrasted with Sophia’s unique presence. My comments are not meant in any way to belittle the other cast members, but rather reflect my diminished capacity as a writer after still suffering from the stunned state Sophia’s performance left me in.
Anyone attuned to the finer points of theatre, or for that matter, anyone with working eyes and ears, must admit that the performance of Sophia was ethereal. Her singing was effortless with a refined yet full, richly textured and surprisingly powerful voice. Her movements and acting the personification of refined grace, and her overall likeability is something, I doubt not even as good an actor as she, could fake. I am an inventor, and my next invention will be to invent an automatic boot programmed to kick me in the backside every time my wife reminds me of my missed opportunity to se Sophia as Sophie in Mamma Mia. My only consolation is that she is supposedly starring in a production of Never Forget at the Savoy theatre in May of 2008. I plan to be one of the first to attend, and my wife will not need to drag me this time. It is said that in art, there is no small thing. Sophia left no stone unturned/unexplored as she poured every ounce of her abundant talent into her role, elevating the genre of panto to an art form I didn’t think possible, until now.
I’d love to write more, but I have to go to my workshop now, and get to work on my automatic kicker.
- Timothy Winey
06 Jan 08
A total joy. A demonstration of what the National can still do when on top form. It almost goes without saying that Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanamaker were superb - they seem born to play these roles - but special mention must also be made of the magisterial Oliver Ford Davies as Leonato and Mark Addy as Dogberry. This production, wonderfully directed by Nicholas Hytner, is both highly comic and deeply serious and works at both levels. A must for all lovers of Shakespeare and/or REAL theatre. - sc
05 Jan 08
I must have been at the wrong theatre? I cannot believe all these 5*s. For starters Simon Russell Beale is far too camp for the part. Giving him cheap stunts to perform like the pond scene may appear fun, made less effective by Ms Wannamaker repeating it - eliciting more of a groan than the intended laugh the night I was there, but doesn't make up for failings in the chemistry between the characters Beatrice and Benedick. Never has a title conveyed so much about the production - much ado about nothing. Just because some of the greats from the past have played these parts well into their dorage doesn't mean we have to do the same today. There are some wonderfull young actors around who would really bring these characters to life - come on NT give 'em a chance! - rds
28 Dec 07
This is a deep and thoughtful Much Ado.
Beatrice and Benedick possess a maturity which allows them to bring a refinement to their characters and the play is all the better for it.
I am a huge fan of both Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wannamaker and they combine brilliantly here - well studied performances which leads you to suggest they share a disenchantment with their lives and genuinely don't see why each would love the other. When Simon Russell Beale says "Love me.... why?" it is a classic comedy coment but also shines a light into Benedick's soul. He does not see himself as someone who could be loved.
There are some very funny scenes and the comic timing of these two is great. Look out for the pool scenes. Wonderful!
And lets not forget the rest of the cast. Oliver Ford Davies, Mark Addy, Trevor Peacock...... all provide strong support.
A great festive treat - go see! - Paul Wallis
21 Dec 07
We saw the RSC Tamsin Greig/Joseph Millson production in January this year, so it was with some trepidation that we went to the National to see this one -- surely it couldn't be as good? Well it was, it was fabulous, and how refreshing to have these older lovers played by older actors. It was a very different production, but that worked to its advantage. It's so exciting that Shakespeare's words lend themselves to such different -- but equally valid -- interpretations. Wanamaker and Russell Beale must be among our very best verse speakers in this country, and their superiority and experience shone through. Lovely, funny, very moving in parts. And 10/10 to Mark Addy and Trevor Peacock for making Dogberry and his sidekick Verges genuinely funny for once -- not an easy task. I'm seeing it again with the WOS outing, and can't wait. - LDE
20 Dec 07
Saw this on Saturday, was blown away by such an amazing performance by all members of the cast. The performance by Simon Russell Beale especially was superb and Zoe Wanamaker as usual was on top form. Oliver Ford Davies, John Burgess and Julian Wadham were great as was the small parts played by Trevor Peacock and Mark Addy. Would recommend that you go see it if you can get hold of a ticket, best thing i've seen on stage this year. - CB
17 Dec 07
Excellent production. Wonderful all star cast and an all star performance.Laugh out loud comedy with S.R.B and Z.W. and beautiful realistic acting from all with special mention going to Oliver Ford Davies and John Burgess. Top drawer stuff!!! - GP
17 Dec 07
Really enjoyed this. Good night out. A performance of a shalespeare comedy that actually made me alugh. Great staging too. Go see it (if oyu can afford to) - Caroline
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