The critics may have been a tad harsh about Much Ado About Nothing at The Old Vic Theatre but sadly what seemed like a good idea to reimagine the play with an older Benedict & Beatrice doesn't work. The result is a slow, plodding & mostly dull production without the usual spark & energy between the main characters. Out of Vanessa Redgrave & James Earl Jones, it was surprisingly the latter who I felt gave a slightly more engaging performance but overall there was little warmth or emotion & not just between them. Others like the actors playing Claudio & Hero were disappointing. The plain, featureless set doesn't help things much either. Such a shame
This is an object lesson at how not to direct pros-arch theatre. The set design leaves the actors with no chance; they can only be heard if facing outwards and not looking at each other, due to the acoustically terrible design. (That they don't know their lines admittedly doesn't help). A dense political drama could withstand such a heavy enclosed set, but a comedy that relies on characters being hidden and general levity cannot. The only thing left for the lighting designer to make the space feel brighter is to light the audience, who in some cases were so blinded they had to move. The sightlines are appaling. That the acting is incredibly uneven and the actors lack of confidence can be improved with further rehearsal, but poor choices on concept cannot.
I saw Much Ado last night with Much Anticipation. After the wonderful Driving Miss Daisy, to see Vanessa Redgrade and James Earl Jones together again promised much. To be fair it was a preview and the opening night is still over a week ago but there is a lot to do and a lot that can't be fixed. The stage design is horrible - just a giant wooden box which creates two problems - firstly the acoustics are terrible as sound reverberates around (coupled with some pretty poor delivery) and secondly it seems impossible to light so the front of the stalls remain lit throughout. Fine performances might have compensated but this is a cast struggling with the text that you just end up willing them to get through it. Having been spoilt by two great Much Ado's in recent years - David Tennant / Catherine Tate and Eve Best / Charles Edwards - this, I'm afraid to report is a real clunker.