This report on a recent performance is a little later than I usually like to be, so I will keep it more toward a commentary than an all-out review. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t post a review early enough to entice other potential viewers to attend a performance at the Ke Center, but 1) I saw one of the last stagings, and 2) I was a little swamped with other things and didn’t get to post it.
So… SRT’s Much Ado About Nothing. I should begin by saying this is not one of my favorites of Shakespeare’s works. I find it gets a little draggy with the constable and his gang, even though they are the pieces that make the plot come together nicely with everyone getting his/her just dues. I thought the SRT crew did a fine job with these characters, but there’s really no way to keep the play from getting bogged down in those scenes. It’s a weakness of the script, in my estimation (I’m very sorry, Mr. Shakespeare, please don’t hold that against me…), and I thought SRT did as well as anyone could with those bits.
I enjoyed the song and dance portions of the production. Too many contemporary stagings of Shakespeare’s comedy leave out this aspect. SRT has chosen to include it in several recent productions, with last year’s Twelfth Night serving as one of the most memorable examples. It helps that they are able to gather up some pretty talented musicians amongst their acting troupe. I really like the way they’ve been giving this side of the comedies their proper place. I think it creates a spirit of play and festival that is a major part of the way the plays were performed back in the day. Kudos to SRT for not only keeping this in mind, but bringing it to the stage in a way that connects with contemporary urban audiences.
The highlight of the show was undoubtedly Benedick and Beatrice. Their lines were wonderfully delivered by Arran Hawkins and Laurie Padgett. The pair was funny, and extremely lovable. They did a fantastic job of drawing the audience into both the drama and the comedy. I thought they played the extremes of humor and poignancy very well. (It’s actually easy to forget that there are moments of poignancy in this play, which is generally remembered for the barbs and goofiness of this couple.)
I thought there were several good directorial decisions in this production. First, I liked seeing the play set on Gulangyu during colonial times. It made sense for the present audience. I also liked the way the darker elements of the script were emphasized, with a very solemn funeral scene in the midst of all the antics and verbal sparring. Very well done.
If I were to make one complaint, it would be that I might have liked to see some of the bits with the constable trimmed down. It’s not a knock on the actors, because they did a fine job with the material. But really, it does become a bit slow-moving, and made for a performance that was just a tad too long. But overall, that’s a very minor complaint about a production that rated very highly with me.
I’ve seen Much Ado About Nothing three or four times in the last couple of years, and this was definitely the best of the lot, even though two of them were played by well-renowned troupes with fairly large budgets.