BBC Culture in Quarantine: Much Ado About Nothing at the RSC online
As part of its Culture in Quarantine series, the BBC’s airing of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2014 production of Much Ado About Nothing could not come at a better time. The latter half of a comic double bill devised by director Christopher Luscombe, the production delivers a dash of Christmas magic that we have all but forgotten existed.
Immediately, the immaculate military uniforms, grand dress outfits and grandiose set, complete with the impressive oak backdrop of a grand manor, draws the viewer in with its inescapable festive charm. This is a truly absorbing production, one where Luscombe’s choice of temporal setting – a joyous post-war gathering – creates a more heightened sense of the drama of Shakespeare’s original work. However, with crooning musical numbers and black tie gowns, Luscombe’s production has an identity all of its own, one far removed from the ruffles of the playwright.
The premise of Luscombe’s Much Ado suggests hijinks from the off, with Don Pedro, Benedick, Claudio and co. portrayed as returning soldiers from the Great War, billeted in the country home of Leonato. Michelle Terry, the present director of the Globe, is piercingly sharp as the fiercely independent Beatrice, whose combative relationship with Edward Bennett’s Benedick produces some of Shakespeare’s most withering put-downs. No scene encapsulates this light-hearted game of romance more than the masked ball, which provides the sharp-tongued Beatrice with the perfect opportunity to let loose upon an astonished Benedick.
The venomous Don John, played by Sam Alexander, remains the only true villain of the play. His unprovoked ill-temper suggests a mood changed by the horrors he has seen on the battlefield; he sports a crutch to help carry his injury and his bitterness. However, his menace only amplifies the good humour of Beatrice and Benedick’s rocky road to love.
With all the family scheming and comic exaggeration – Benedick’s episode in the Christmas tree is a delightful farce – Luscombe’s production oozes festive joy. Finished with the Bard’s championing of good virtue, Much Ado About Nothing is the perfect companion for these unsettled times.
Photo: Manuel Harlan © RSC