Much Ado About Nothing

RSC programme

'Much Ado' played with fun and flair

There comes a time in every Shakespearean players life when he or she must submit to the severe test provided by the roles of Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing.

That was the test faced by Janet Suzman and Alan Howard at Stratford last night. Taking the roles for the first time, they stood up for comparison with the Theatre's elite who had previously won great acclaim for their handling of these difficult parts.

Mr. Howard and Miss Suzman were undaunted by previous reputation, however, and won the hearts of the first-night audience with performances that were original and very funny.

The volatile Beatrice, self-assured, and with a ready tongue, was a brilliant performance by Miss Suzman - a real little spitfire.

Mr. Howard seems to have a natural talent for humour. His timing and exquisite facial expressions were perfect, and his wide-eyed horror at the first connection of his name with Beatrice was a delight.

Benedick and Beatrice, 1968

Bernard Lloyd gave a tender, smooth performance as the love-struck Claudio, and Helen Mirren, as Hero, was as coy and virginal as the part demanded.

Shakespeare's dig at the ignorance and self-importance of local officialdom was the creation of the part of Dogberry, here wonderfully portrayed by David Waller.

Springing up and down on his toes in the best policeman fashion, bursting with self-importance and speaking in condescending tones to his friend and headborough, Verges (Clifford Rose), Mr. Waller's Dogberry was a character of cartoon proportions..................................................................


Coventry Evening Telegraph, 15.10.68.


Playing Shakespeare/Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

The first half hour of Trevor Nunn's production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre shows signs of a tiredness not uncommon to this season. Its main symptom is break-neck speaking with a consequent fracturing of meaning. Both Beatrice and Benedick forfeit a good deal of comic response by trying too much too quickly. Fortunately there is a spectacular recovery by Benedick. Alan Howard - a real RST discovery - makes the character take flight in wit and grace. This actor commands attention by a kind of controlled eccentricity. One hopes that he will be allowed and encouraged to maintain his control. Janet Suzman as Beatrice alas indulges most of her failings and little of her virtues. She bounces on the lines, flinging her arms in accompaniment, mistaking emphasis for wit and a coquettish look for grace. There is, indeed, an unwonted coarseness of spirit in this Beatrice. The production takes heart from Alan Howard, and by Part II its superb sense and costumes begin to look less lonely. The action seems to emerge as from a huge and opulent Renaissance painting, and some of the acting matches the splendour. David Waller's Dogberry is a triumph - he moves like a red balloon which is never quite pricked and his comic business has the blessing of economy. Sebastian Shaw's Leonato, Norman Rodway's Don Pedro and Susan Fleetwood's Margaret are also noteworthy performances. Trevor Nunn's visual sense can scarcely be faulted, though too many of his court ladies look as if they suffered from the Virgin Queen's incipient baldness. His production firmly reveals the play's theme of regeneration. It does so, praise be, without resorting to the contemporary habit of getting cheap applause by mucking about with the text and sensational visual effects. This Much Ado restores one's faith in the RST which this season, by and large, had been badly shaken up.

Gareth Lloyd Evans.

The Guardian, 15.10.68.


Playing Shakespeare/Much Ado About Nothing

Gorgeous Much Ado

Like Troilus and Cressida, Trevor Nunn's production of Much Ado About Nothing has been transfigured by its passage from Stratford to the Aldwych Theatre; an intelligent and imperfect first version has blossomed into a gorgeous piece of comic ensemble.

Beside some recasting (a new Don Pedro and Don John), there is a major change of environment; in place of the market cross with its bands and parades, there is now a bare rectangular shell where indoor and outdoor scenes are established with a few lightweight properties. The emphasis, therefore, is displaced from military irrelevances to the direct action.

It is tempting to dwell on details (such as a new tennis court scene, and the crying baby that reduces the Watch to whispers) but what distinguishes the show is not the hand of the director but its sheer amplitude of life: a shared sense of dramatic flow that takes every pause up to the limit and gives peak lines an exultant weight ("The world", shouts Benedick, "must be PEOPLED!", smashing his gardener's hat between his fists); and a matching precision of individual character. This extends from the Beatrice and Benedick of Alan Howard and Janet Suzman (masterly in the church scene), and Sebastian Shaw's Leonato (a game old man momentarily nodding off in the midst of the intrigue) to a tiny part like Sarah Kestleman's.

Beatrice and Benedick in the redesigned Much Ado, 1969

Irving Wardle.

The Times, 30.7.69.

London programme

Back to RSC Reviews page

Playing Shakespeare/Much Ado About Nothing