Much has been made by one or two critics of the Ďdarknessí of this production of the play, which many remember as a sunlit romp in Kenneth Branaghís hands some years back.
True, the verbal sparring between Benedick and Beatrice early on fails to take wing, and it is only in the scenes in which the inevitable couple are duped into thinking the other is fathoms deep in love with them that the pulse quickens; but dark it ainít.
Aden Gillett and Janie Dee, back for this the third Peter Hall season at Bath, are fine comic actors. But while Gillett is deft, he conveys little sense of passion. The excellent Philip Voss, a fine Jacques here two years ago, does not find the rage that Gary Waldhorn brought to the role of Leonato, Governor of Messina, in Gregory Doranís excellent production for the RSC three years ago.
That said, thereís much to enjoy; not least Charles Edwards as Don Pedro. The final scene where he slinks off in disgust, alone and into the night, after realising he has been tricked while the four lovers and assembled company burst into dance, is a lovely touch.
Lovely too are the costumes by Kevin Rigdon and Trish Rigdon, updated here to the Napoleonic era and Jane Austenís Bath; although the former then opts, rather bizarrely, to set the play in a distressed medieval castle courtyard, which could have come out of a Shakespearean production 50 years ago.
Shaw was fond of this play; as was Auden, who observed that Beatrice and Benedick were, of all the characters created by Shakespeare, the ones we would most like to sit next to at a dinner table. It may have been imagination on my part (or more likely a sense of mischief on Hallís), but David Acton as Verges bears a striking resemblance to the old pontificator. Elsewhere, Sam Kelly turns in a nicely judged performance as Dogberry. And the action picks up pace in the second half of the production.
Surprisingly, this is the first time Hall has directed Much Ado. I wouldnít go so far as to say itís been worth such a long wait, but it provides diverting if undemanding entertainment.
- Pete Wood