On paper, Much Ado About Nothing should be a slick and inspiring affair, filled with the theatrical moments that everybody loves Shakespeare for, but in reality it was the theatre equivalent of Miley Cyrus twerking with Robin Thicke.
Nothing has been changed from the original plot in this production other than the time period it’s set in and the age of the two central cast members. We see Benedick and Claudio as American soldiers returning home, and it is incredibly fresh in that sense. This bold move might have paid off if any attention had actually been paid to the biggest elephant in the room: age change.
Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones, two acting legends who have enough acclaim between them to fill a book, take the roles of Benedick and Beatrice. It never states that the pair are younger, but traditionally it has always been played by younger actors, so seeing quite ‘youthful’ scenes being acted out by the pair feels strange. Interestingly enough, the director, Mark Rylance, touches on the subject of age in the programme, saying “I’m sure people fall in love at any age and each age has its particular beauty through the eyes of the lover and beloved,” but although people can fall in love at any age, surely they have to grow up at some point?
The younger cast save this production. Lloyd Everitt and Beth Cooke as Hero and Claudio absolutely smash their performances out of the ball park, while the rest of the American soldiers are highlights, including Kingsley Ben-Adir and Trevor Lairde as Borachio and Conrade being manhandled by the young kids who have become village watchmen. The older cast members, established actors, were often stumbling on lines and their timing, both comedic and dramatic, was off. At one point, Jones completely forgot his lines and all Redgrave could do was hug him and laugh.
It was a bit of a train wreck, but on the bright side, if you’re looking for the pantomime equivalent of Much Ado About Nothing then this would be the perfect production for you to see.
Much Ado About Nothing is playing at The Old Vic until 30 November 2013. For more information and tickets, see the Old Vic website.