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Old Globe Mounts Sparkling Production Of 'Much Ado About Nothing'

Sara Topham and Michael Hayden (center) play the reluctant and witty lovers Beatrice and Benedick in the Old Globe production of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."
Old Globe/Jim Cox
Sara Topham and Michael Hayden (center) play the reluctant and witty lovers Beatrice and Benedick in the Old Globe production of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."

Shakespeare's battling lovers get Noel Coward treatment

Old Globe Mounts Sparkling Production Of 'Much Ado About Nothing'
Old Globe Mounts Sparkling Production Of 'Much Ado About Nothing' GUESTS: Michael Hayden, actor playing Benedick Sara Topham, actress playing Beatrice Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter

I'm Maureen Cavanagh. Kathleen Marshall directs a sparkling production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Globe Theater. That review from Cape PBS arts reporter Beth Komando who speaks with actors Michael Hayden and Sarah top him who play the witty reluctant lovers. You are playing Benedicte and Beatrice. So tell me as an actor what kind of the pleasures of tackling characters like that with dialogue that's good. Well you just said it. The dialogue is glorious to play a character that loves language is brilliant with language and of course all Shakespeare's characters are at least in my experience a far more intelligent than I am. No truly I mean I could never think on my feet with such expanse and you'd be able to use language as a weapon or as a seduction or as to disarm. I mean it's glorious. It's a tennis match. It's banging back and forth with Sarah on a nightly basis. It's brilliant. It's just the pleasure of imagining that one is faster and able to think with more alacrity and speak with more precision and you know so often in real life you're in a situation and ten minutes later you think oh that's what I should've said. And when you're playing a Shakespeare character you actually get to think of the thing in the moment which is a real joy. And also you know I always say the other pleasure is not just speaking the words but having them spoken to you getting to be on the receiving end of this text which is life changing world changing to allow yourself to yield to the other person's words is a really beautiful and joyous experience. Now this particular production has kind of a Noel Coward feel to it because of the setting and the costumes and all that. So do you feel that you're kind of making a real connection like a screwball comedies of the 30s and people like Katherine Hepburn and Carole Lombard and things like that. It is kind of the original adversarial romantic comedy for me when I'm doing Shakespeare the setting of the play the production doesn't really affect how I relate to the language or higher relate to the person because I think human beings have not changed since the dawn of time love is still love. Jealousy is still jealousy fear is still fear. You know I think some of the accoutrements you get to play with and relate to are a little bit different. But the internal kind of journey of finding your way towards being brave enough to admit you love someone and give them that power over you is the same whether you're playing it in 15 95 or 18 in 2005 or 2018 it read in the production notes that Kathleen talked about you guys being like magnets you know bounce each other away push each other away. And so I was wondering if in terms of like the physical interaction you had that kind of played into it in some way playing with space and playing with compressing space between two people. Whether it's a dangerous scene were those inches count but I always think what's often missed in impassioned scenes that quote unquote romantic scenes was a miserable way to put it because it often these people are wet and sentimental. You know if you want to kill something just do that. But those inches the space one that one encroaches upon are everything. And I always think that the closer you get it's like a balloon pushing away from you the harder it gets. And if you take that on board then that tension stays alive and it's very funny but it's also in other moments can be very dangerous and sexy. I think that's what creates physical tension onstage. I think that's part of what creates chemistry because God knows her and I don't have any get or something. But yeah the opposite magnets you know images like that can be very helpful. I think like all romantic comedy this adversarial kind really comes from this play in a way. The other thing we talked about a lot wasn't never getting in a place where we settle not so much for us but also for the audience because there is a misconception I think that what the audience wants are what gives them pleasure is to see two people come together. But in actual fact the deliciousness is in the making the audience want that and not giving it to them until the very last moment. The idea of continuing to find ways in which they almost come together but don't which Shakespeare has already given you in abundance. If you are really working from the text it's very clear how difficult it is for them to actually broach that last quarter of a millimeter between them. You know for me all great romance stories have that element where it's not until the last breathless second. Do you actually resolve because if the court is resolved then then what you have is simply an apotheosis and I don't think Shakespeare wrote apotheosis. Play is unless there's an epilogue and then you know God help us if you can see him a year and a half up the road they probably want to strangle each other. But you know the making up would be quite enjoyable. I was going to say what do you see for Benedick and Beatrice so you're down there. You know that's actually really a question for the people in the audience and not for us what they think would happen. You think about it because it can be one of the things that's hard as an actor as you play the battle and you and you get to the moment of satisfaction and then it's over and then you begin at the beginning the next time. And so every now and again you do think oh gosh wouldn't it be nice just to have 15 minutes where all was well in the world. But then it wouldn't be drama. One out there has been married understands is that once you've been in the trenches for a while you know you'd be really bloodied but not beaten. I think I do think one of the most important things to have in any relationship is a sense of humor. So I think it's it's it's also paramount about oneself and about your partner to you laughing at them when they don't see you of course or when you're with your friends but that gives me a lot of hope. They give each other joy. They like the sparring. You know they like that piece of it. So and as I said before I think whatever scrapes they get into I think the making up would be pretty good. And Kathleen talked about the notion of deception and self-deception in the play and between your characters. Can you comment on that a little. Well I think it's vital that these Benedix this hopeless begins with being absolutely in a certain way Sajan erotic and absolutely certain you'll never be affected by women is beyond that and then you know having you know one pillar torn down bit by bit by bit. So yeah self-deception and deceiving others is. There are times it's absolutely done in a cruel way in the play and I think that's important and juxtapose that is very humorous way it's gone about it. So you know as only Jeanne Moos can do we get to see the full gamut of the ramifications of playing that game. I think that's great. Absolutely. The core idea of deceiving other people but also deceiving oneself. And I think in so many of Shakespeare's plays the examination of love has to do with yielding and surrender. You feel beforehand the apprehension comes because you what you see are the things you would have to give up in order to be in that dynamic and that for some of these characters someone like Beatrice in particular feels impossible feels like a bargain and she's not willing to make. It's not until you are forced to reach for that other person in a moment of need that you find yourself surrendering almost unconsciously and then you find that what you get from surrender is more than what you give up. You know hopefully that's that's I think that's what we all wish for love to be. That was Kate PBS arts reporter Beth Comando speaking with actors Michael Hayden and Sarah Topham. You can see them in much ado about nothing through September 16th.

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.