Old Globe Mounts Sparkling Production Of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’
Shakespeare’s battling lovers get Noel Coward treatment
Thursday, August 16, 2018
Michael Hayden, actor playing Benedick
Sara Topham, actress playing Beatrice
Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter
William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," now in performance at the Old Globe Theatre, gives us Benedick and Beatrice, a pair of witty, reluctant lovers who set the tone for screwball comedies and romantic comedies where the lovers just can't seem to realize they are perfect for each other.
Kathleen Marshall directs a sparkling production of "Much Ado About Nothing" set in the Italian Riviera of the 1930s and set to the music of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. It is Shakespeare done as Noel Coward and it is delightful.
"’Much Ado’ is really such a perfect play in so many ways and it’s fun to sort of figure out a setting for it," Marshall said. "What I was drawn to, the men, the soldiers have just come back from a campaign, from a war and they are having a respite from the outside world at Leonardo’s house and they decide to stay a month and in my mind where would pretty, privileged people like to go on holiday and Shakespeare set it in Messina, which is in Sicily, but I chose the Italian Riviera in the early 1930s, so sort of Noel Coward, Cole Porter feeling of people at leisure.”
Marshall sees the play as something of the first rom-com: "Their relationship, these people who are combative and fall into a kind of romantic relationship, I think they are the ancestors of all of those classic battling couples whether it is Jane Austen in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or Tracy and Hepburn or ‘When Harry Met Sally’ or ‘How I met Your Mother’ I think they are all descendants of Benedick and Beatrice.”
Shakespeare's plays are impressive for their malleability. A director can change the time period and the setting and tweak all sorts of things and not only do the plays still work, they resonate differently for each new generation that discovers them.
“What’s amazing is that for a play that was written some 400 years ago, how the human behavior is still very recognizable," Marshall stated. "What happens when you feel betrayed, what happens when you fall in love, what happens when you are tricked into believing something and so I think he so had his finger on the pulse of human behavior and I think that is still very recognizable how people behave in these situations.”
Michael Hayden and Sara Topham take on the roles of Benedick and Beatrice that Marshall described as being like polar opposite magnets that repel each other. She had confidence that these classically trained actors would excel in their roles.
“Beatrice and Benedick there’s a kind of music to their language and so first of all I knew that Sara and Michael would have facility with the language and they are both charming comic actors. It’s fun to see the sparks and you want to see the delight of them getting together at the end of the play. They balance each other very well. They are generous actors who know how to set the other one up and are very charming," Marshall said.
AT the core, she sees the play as being about various kinds of deception.
“Sometimes people are deceived for playful purposes and sometimes they are deceived for more malicious purposes," Marshall explained. "And it’s also about self-deception. I think it is about Beatrice and Benedick being able to release and give in to their feelings and their joy and their happiness."
In the case of "Much Ado About Nothing" deception can be very dark and that provides a stark contrast to all the vivacious romantic comedy.
“It is a kind of rollercoaster ride," Marshall noted. "It starts in sunshine and goes into cloudiness and returns to sunshine by the end. But it’s very dark, what happens how Claudio is tricked into believing Hero has betrayed him and he jilts her at the altar basically and they have this elaborate ploy to say that she has died to see if remorse can lead to reconciliation and it is a lot to navigate. What we have talked about with the company is to go on that wild rollercoaster ride and allow those kinds of big surprises and big emotional jolts to happen and not try to smooth them over but to go along for the ride.”
Much Ado About Nothing runs through Sept. 16 at the Old Globe's outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Stage.
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