Associate director Matthew Dunster takes on a slightly sunnier affair this season, after last year’s East End Imogen, with a Mexican-inspired Much Ado About Nothing. Specifically, it’s set around the armed phase of the Mexican Revolution; this began in 1910, and the events of the production take place in 1914. After a few years of volatile instability and tumult, Pancho Villa’s victory in 1914 effectively led to the ousting of President Huerta, in a bid to ensure a democratic future for the country. The rival caudillos couldn’t come to an agreement on the country’s leadership, however, and fighting broke out again later that same year (The War of the Winners) – Carranza eventually coming out victorious in 1915.
The specifics of the revolution don’t play a huge part in the show, it acting more as a backdrop, but given that Don Pedro and the others return from a successful battle as the play begins, it could well be following Villa’s victory at Zacatecas to overthrow Huerta. The action is transported from Messina to Monterrey (in the north of Mexico), with Benedick hailing from Torreón, Claudio from Chihuahua, and Don Pedro from Durango (Pancho Villa himself had links to the latter two states). The themes of conflict and gender roles make the Mexican Revolution an ideal setting for Much Ado, as it allows for shows of male dominance as well as increasing prominence and independence for women; the soldaderas (female military) are an iconic image of the revolution, and most were found in the northern states.
I’d never been to one of the Globe’s introductory lectures before, so I decided now was as good a time as any! I may know the play rather well already (having seen this production five times before, and one other last year), but having a talk from an expert on the subject is a good way to enhance understanding – and I’m always up for broadening my knowledge. Our resident expert was the University of Sussex’s Professor Tom Healy, accompanied by actress Rebecca Todd.
Our main focus was on the tragic potential in certain scenes of the play. Though it is ostensibly a comedy (it follows the usual template by ending in a marriage – or in this case, a double marriage), it often threatens to turn on its head and become a tragedy. The play could just as easily end in a death and no weddings, or multiple murders in the vein of a revenge tragedy. (This idea of the darker side of Much Ado was the inspiration for GOLEM! Theatre’s I Know You Of Old earlier this year.)
Healy also talked about how some scenes could be played in different ways equally effectively, depending on direction; one that he played out with Rebecca was the “Kill Claudio” scene between Beatrice and Benedick. A couple of reviews criticised how this line, in particular, is presented in this production (Express and The Stage, ), saying it should be dramatic and shocking – however, Healy (without having seen this production) interestingly said that a slightly comic rendering of the scene is entirely acceptable. “Shakespeare is not prescriptive,” were his exact words.
So, after that stimulating hour, my challenge was to get out of the Nancy Knowles Lecture Theatre and up to the theatre in enough time to get a good standing spot! Luckily enough, the groundlings were still queuing so I still ended up in the second ‘row’. The last time I saw the show was just over three weeks ago, and in that time I’d said goodbye to my beloved Twelfth Night, so I was very excited to be back for a bit of much needed Mexican sun. Also, I couldn’t wait to see how it had developed over that time; it seems to change ever so slightly over the course of a few days, so this three-week gap was an interesting experiment.
And, of course, I wasn’t disappointed. Ewan Wardrop is adding little things here and there to bring even more chuckles to Dog Berry, Sarah Saggari is more hilarious than ever as Margaret (her attempts at shooting the cans gets me every time), and Marcello Cruz’s Claudio is definitely coming more to the fore. And as for Matthew Needham as Benedick… Every single time I’ve seen the show he’s made one or two subtle changes; I really enjoy watching actors who take risks and try something new as much as possible, and Needham has to be one of the best I’ve seen.
All in all, it was great to be back. Much Ado is definitely one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, and it’s hard to imagine there ever being a production that tops this one. It’s a good thing I’m seeing it twice more this week, eh?