As we take a bit of a break from our Much Ado discussion, I have transcribed a few portions of my February 29, 1984 London journal entry, from when I saw the play performed with Derek Jacobi and Sinead Cusack in the principal roles, one of many outings to the theater as part of Carleton's London program. The writing's a bit declamatory. But I was 21.
Much Ado About Nothing
directed by Terry Hands
Royal Shakespeare Company
February 29, 1984
I arrived back at the Avalon [Hotel] late in the afternoon, and after doing a bit of reading dressed for tonight's play at the Barbican: Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.
The whole class was excited to see this play because we had talked to [actor] John Carlisle yesterday, and now we could see him exercising his dramatic philosophies on the stage. He was excited for us to see it, claiming that it was not over-produced as some Barbican productions are, that it relied solely on Shakespeare's material.
Seldom have I been so enraptured by a play, so caught up in its magical world, so completely satisfied by a single production. This trip has supplied some paramount productions, almost equally as satisfying, like Stoppard's The Real Thing and [the RSC's] Comedy of Errors, but this production of Much Ado was excellent.
The set was a floor of mirrors with a wall of Plexiglass as a backdrop. Imprinted on this latter were trees and behind it was a sort of garden, more trees, and drifting figures who occasionally danced, played, or just strolled by. It gave a sense that court life was going on during the play, that we were seeing a society in motion. On the front stage the play took place, Benedick's childish arrogance rebuffed by Beatrice's equally arrogant self-will, Claudio's wooing of Hero, and Don John's villainy. Shakespeare's Much Ado is a superb comedy, whose gaiety does not forget that a slight turn of events can change its smiling face quickly to a tragic mask. Claudio's renunciation of Hero, her purity defiled by his honorable oath against her supposed infidelity, brings the play very close to Romeo and Juliet.
The RSC played it immaculately, speaking lines in ways that never would have occurred to me when I read the text; yet each interpretation seems to be as Shakespeare would've wanted it. As I watched, I kept having the feeling "this is the way the play should be done."
[Derek] Jacobi was brilliant. His performance as Benedick was one of the best performances I have ever seen on the stage. Delightfully adolescent. And Sinead Cusack was fantastic as Beatrice. The two of them stole the show ... As a production, Much Ado would have stood as excellent without Jacobi and Cusack; they are like icing on the sugar cake.
[John] Carlisle had a rather small part, unfortunately, but his description of his attempts with the character of Don John, to try to transmit the bitterness he feels as a bastard child, to give just a "hint of the homosexual," made him very interesting to watch.
The most laudable aspect of this production was the RSC's incredible imagination, or insight rather, pertaining to "the little things." The play's last line, spoken to Don Pedro about the captured Don John is something like "Think not on him 'til tomorrow. / For now let us dance and be merry." A fairly typical ending to many of Shakespeare's comedies. But the RSC continued to play for another five minutes, couples encircling Beatrice and Benedick, Beatrice holding a pirouetting Benedick, Benedick failing to lift (the heavy?) Beatrice, the couples leaving, Benedick and Beatrice falling into an argument oblivious to the departure of the others, their realization, their kiss. Curtain.
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Gerard Manley Hopkins and Shakespeare
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