Thursday, 20 July 2017

Review Much Ado About Nothing (Preview)

Much Ado About Nothing
by William Shakespeare

Once Upon A Time In Mexico

It's Mucho Ado About Nothing with sombreros, ponchos and cigarillos at Shakespeare's Globe set in the midst of the Mexican Revolution in the early years of the 20th century.

The steam clears revealing wooden slatted railway wagons spanning the stage, a  means of moving people and supplies from and to the home encampment.  

The grubby rebels, the leader Don Pedro (Steve John Shepherd),  lanky, moustachioed Benedick (Matthew Needham) and young puppy rebel Claudio (Marcello Cruz) arrive on horses, cleverly evoked by riders on stilts and wire horses' heads.

Here the women stride around with rifles and belts of bullets criss crossing their female apparel. 

In the chauvinist rebel camp environment, there is also Don Pedro's sister, the saturnine Juana (Jo Dockery). It's a gender swap from the original Shakespeare text and the male machismo surrounding her gives some motivation for her bitterness and jealousy.

Directed by Matthew Dunster, it all works surprisingly well. Don Pedro is a slightly insecure Pancho Villa figure at a time when several factions were fighting for dominance in Mexico. The tough Leonato (Martin Marquez in a fine performance), complete with  black eye patch, is still slightly vulnerable when it comes to family honour.

Beatrice (Beatriz Romilly) is his slightly older niece, a slightly more careworn woman than her hardy but still more than slightly fragile cousin Hero (Anya Chalotra).

The music from composer James Maloney and the three-strong band led by Zands Duggan with Matt Bacon on guitar and Miguel Gorodi on trumpet, conjures up a hot, dusty and vibrant Mexico. But it also works dramatically, signalling the mood of the oncoming action and enabling fluid, clear scene changes for the audience.

Anna Fleischle's design keeps it simple: The train wagons from the National Railways of Mexico  provide the backdrop. On one side stands a blue and white tiled pillar with an altar and a Madonna shrine. On the other side, a pillar has a wooden bench curving round as a seat and a perch for the beer bottles.

Away from the main stage is another island platform in the midde of the groundlings, serving as a second stage. 

The tricks played on Beatrice and Benedict make sense in the boredom of the anti-climactic periods between fighting.  The easily-swayed males and their vulnerability, alongside machismo, makes sense of the savage rejection of Hero, not only by Claudio but also Don Pedro and her own father Leonato. 

The place names are changed to suit Mexico. The currency of course is the peso and the masked ball with Fleischle's flamboyant brightly colouried Mexican costumes  becomes a lusty but formalised celebration of the bull and virility. 

In this version, Dogberry becomes Dog Berry (Ewan Wardrop), an American movie director who mangles words in translation. 

His box camera footage helps uncover the villain of the piece and if the storyline feels a little strained, that's more the nature of Shakespearean comedy than this production. 

For a Hollywood newsreel and movie director really did accompany Sancho Panza in real life and there was even a contract, if a little less spectacular and prescriptive than some implied.

It's an earthy, bright and gaudy Much Ado with the music effortlessly flagging up the comic and serious moments.  

Very much an ensemble piece from Beatrice and Benedick, through Don Pedro, Juana, Hero, Claudio and Hero, to the sweetly-singing child soldier (Lucy Brandon), it's a green light for a mucho enjoyable Much Ado About Nothing.  

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