Wo-oah, The Show Must Go Online is halfway there! Much Ado About Nothing marks the midpoint of the schedule, following on from Henry IV, part two. And what better way to mark it than with a bit of a shindig? Snacks & drinks have become a mainstay of TSMGO (both on camera and in the chat), but it’s always nice to be guided in some way to save making your own decision – plus, of course, there was some dressing up to do involving spies and masks…
Much Ado About Nothing happens to be one of my personal favourites, helped in no small way by the magnificent 2017 Globe production which transported the action to revolutionary Mexico – I saw it so many times, including the midnight matinée and in the middle of a thunderstorm (I had not brought a coat that day), and remain forever baffled as to why it’s not a fixture of their digital collection. I’ve also seen it in a variety of other formats, including a reimagined story from GOLEM! Theatre (I Know You Of Old), the Shit-faced Shakespeare version, and a 90-minute production in a temporary theatre in Selfridges. Plus in 2018 I had a hat-trick of Much Ados, seeing one at Rose Theatre Kingston in spring, then Antic Disposition’s and Merely Theatre’s within a few days of one another in August. A very rich history, indeed.
This week’s introduction came all the way from South America, courtesy of Carlos Drocchi and Mercedes de la Torre of Fundación Shakespeare Argentina. This “merry and very lively play” was probably first performed at the Curtain Theatre, and there is some evidence to suggest that a court performance at Whitehall Palace was ordered for 1612. It’s based on “Renaissance bestsellers” and forms something of a trilogy with Twelfth Night and As You Like It – notably these three plays feature some strong female characters in the likes of Beatrice, Viola, and Rosalind. It’s interesting to think about the different meanings of the word ‘nothing’ in the title; in Elizabethan pronunciation it is ‘noting’, so hints at the various forms of communication in the play, as well as the musical inclusions – plus ‘nothing’ was slang for female genitalia, so it could have acted as a hook to attract audiences. “Chastity, fidelity, love, and desire” are all great themes of the play, which centres around two couples: Hero & Claudio, Beatrice & Benedick. The former is “love at first sight”, whereas the latter pair are “prisoners of their pride & reputation” and have some sort of a history – they are often seen as the ‘main’ couple, reflected by Charles II calling the play Benedick & Beatrice.
Upon his return to Messina, Claudio realises he is in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero, and tells Benedick & Don Pedro that he wishes to marry her; the latter is all for it and offers his assistance, but the former (possibly influenced by whatever history he has with Beatrice) does his best to try and dissuade Claudio, making no secret of his distaste for marriage. Don John (Don Pedro’s bastard brother) seeks to spread malcontent, first suggesting to Claudio that Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself rather than on Claudio’s behalf – this deception is short-lived, however his story about Hero being unfaithful carries more weight, as Borachio is seen entering her room and embracing her (although the woman in question is actually Margaret). Claudio, Don Pedro & Don John agree that Hero deserves a public humiliation, which he instigates just as they are about to be married. She collapses in shock, and Claudio leaves her for dead. All the while, Beatrice and Benedick have been manipulated by their friends & family into thinking each was in love with the other, and now it seems as though it might be happening for real – but will Benedick be able to put Beatrice’s plan for revenge into action?
Welcome to the Messina Hotel & Casino! I’m not going to lie: I’m a sucker for a theme. As long as it’s a snug, natural fit and not manipulated simply to make the concept work; the storytelling should be paramount in a creative team’s concerns. That’s why you know you’re safe with The Show Must Go Online – they are led by the text and everything is meticulously thought through, even down to individual little jokes. With the theme of communication running through Much Ado (from eavesdropping to deliberate miscommunication), some interesting hiding techniques, and the men returning from war in the text, the spy idea is an clear fit. The bonus of Bond-esque opening titles also went down very well!
It even offered up an hilarious new hiding place for Benedick – rather than retreating to the arbour, he goes Mission: Impossible style into the air vents, diving around, and trying (& failing) to keep out of view. Roger Carvalho was absolutely brilliant at this, with some excellent reactions to both what he overhears and the alarms he inadvertently sets off. There was a game again this week (perhaps unsurprisingly, ‘spot the espionage references’), but other than the brilliant tweak to “double-0 Mountanto” I was enjoying myself way too much to really get my teeth into this.
Setting it in a hotel & casino obviously caters to the spy theme rather nicely (of course I was immediately thinking Casino Royale), plus the range of services many top-range hotels offer means there were plenty of options for scene locations; Hero’s hen do in the hotel spa provided some more excellent physical comedy, as Beatrice found new & innovative ways of trying to hide herself as Ursula & Hero talked about her – occasionally this scene can get overshadowed by Benedick’s, as the novelty of hiding can wear off if they are carbon copies of one another. Helen Millar excelled in this scene, making completely unexpected and laugh-out-loud funny choices for Beatrice.
Often an interval is taken after Claudio sees ‘Hero’ with Borachio, returning for the wedding ceremony after the break, but it was nice to see something different in this production; it was left on a different cliffhanger, with Beatrice calling on Benedick to “kill Claudio” – possibly more fitting for a spy comedy to have the threat of death hanging in the air.
Watching these plays in the order in which they were written is definitely throwing up some interesting, natural observations; A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a few weeks ago now, but you can definitely see the similarities between Bottom and Dogberry (both are asses, in one way or another) – there’s development there, too, as Dogberry is big on his malapropisms & verbal clowning. Dafydd Gwynn Howells was absolutely excellent in what can be a tricky role to navigate.
I could keep going on and on, but I’m aware of just how much I’ve written already… I think it’s plain to see that this is up there with my favourite TSMGO productions so far; the marriage of play & theme proved itself stronger than Claudio & Hero’s relationship, that’s for sure! And just to round everything off, throughout the play viewers were able to vote on Twitter as to how Don John would be punished at the end, bringing an interactive element to an already wonderful production. The Show Must Go Online: Licensed to Thrill.
Next week: Henry V
Much Ado About Nothing was broadcast on 15 July 2020. The Show Must Go Online runs every Wednesday at 7pm and is also available to watch afterwards. Become a Patron at The Show Must Go Online’s Patreon page. The Show Must Go Online merchandise is available from Redbubble.