Day 4: “Leonato’s Hero, your Hero, every man’s Hero”

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Anya Chalotra in Much Ado About Nothing
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Yesterday was day 4, and a return to Mexico for some more Much Ado – and the more I see it, the more perfect it becomes. As this is the second post of the week on this production, I thought it would be a good time to delve deeper into one of the characters at the centre of the play, and explore  how they can be presented on stage or screen. Recent Guildhall School graduate Anya Chalotra plays Hero in the Globe’s production, earning a nomination for Best Actress in a Play in The Stage Debut Awards – because of this exciting news, it seems only right to focus on Hero.

The daughter of Leonato, she (along with Claudio) is arguably at the centre of Much Ado About Nothing, though understandably Beatrice and Benedick’s “skirmish of wit” usually attracts the most attention. Hero and Claudio get engaged quite early on in the play, before assisting Don Pedro in his plan to make their warring friends fall in love with each other – then Don John (or Donna Juana, in this production) gets involved and tricks Claudio into thinking Hero was meeting another man on the night before their wedding. Confronted with Claudio’s rejection in front of everyone in the church, she passes out and for a moment is thought dead; the friar convinces her and her father to tell everyone that she has died, as it will give them time to find out the truth and help salvage her reputation in the meantime. It’s a comedy, so of course the truth about Juana’s deception is discovered, and the wedding eventually goes ahead.

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Beatriz Romilly in Much Ado About Nothing
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

If you simply read the play, Hero can come across as a bit of a wet blanket and something of a pushover. Obviously there is historical context to this; in a patriarchal society, the women couldn’t have a say in their own lives and a daughter was expected to have humility and marry according to her father’s wishes. This is explained in act 2 scene 1, when Leonato instructs Hero to accept Don Pedro if he asks for her hand – and Beatrice makes a great show of how she will have her say about her own marriage, though acknowledging Hero’s situation:

It is my cousin’s duty to make cursy and say,
‘Father, as it please you.’ But yet for all that, cousin, let him
be a handsome fellow, or else make another cursy, and say,
‘Father, as it please me.’

It is also telling that her lines in the aborted wedding scene are vastly outnumbered by those spoken by Claudio and the other men at the ceremony. Hero remains seemingly submissive, as her fiancé launches into a bitter tirade that even her father seems to believe, only being allowed the occasional confused retort as her character is publicly torn to shreds. And even as the play concludes, she sticks to the ‘natural order’ of things and goes along with marrying Claudio after all, despite his unwitting betrayal of her.

This is where direction and interpretation can make all the difference. With Matthew Dunster setting this production in the midst of the Mexican Revolution, there is an immediate incentive for the women to be feistier and more independent in their actions (see my previous Much Ado post for some background on the era) – and Anya Chalotra has absolutely found a way of working the setting and the text to her advantage.

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Matthew Needham in Much Ado About Nothing
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Just because there are monumental gaps in between her responses to Claudio’s accusations doesn’t mean she’s standing passively, waiting for her chance to talk – Chalotra takes Hero from giggling disbelief through to pure rage and heartbreak. She makes her presence felt, following and confronting her accusers every step of the way, almost daring them to keep going. Watching her closely last night, I went through the emotional ringer with her.

Not to dwell on that particular scene, I also want to highlight how funny Chalotra shows Hero to be (in the right hands) – and she truly has a beautiful voice, taking the lead on The Desperate Kingdom of Love. I also can’t help but stand with a massive grin on my face as she entreats the rest of the cast with shouts of “¡Vamos!” as the wedding dance speeds to a close.

And I’ll give you your daily reminder about the Shakespeare quiz that I’ve devised – don’t be afraid of it! You probably know more than you realise…

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