The Old Vic
226 September 2013
226 September 2013
Director: Mark Rylance
Talent: Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones
Danny Le Wynter as Don John made me laugh twice. Beth Cooke as Hero was game. There are no other positives.
The set was, well, it was brown, which is to say it featured a large brown ‘arch’ in the shape of a table, and a brown backdrop. There were two or three chairs and a wind up gramophone. There was altogether far too much business – people walking about at the back of the stage carrying chairs or sweeping up or lingering at the side having animated pretend conversations. The only real laughs of the evening were provoked by the antics of a gardener dancing to a woefully performed slow blues. I couldn’t watch myself, for embarrassment at the ineptitude of that particular performance. The supporting cast – and Much Ado is distinguished by its number of fully-drawn minor characters – I suppose did their best, but they were up against it. Redgrave and James Earl Jones were very poor indeed.
This was the indulging of a whim: “This production was born from the idea of Benedick and Beatrice being played by James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave” writes Mark Rylance in the programme. No Shakespeare play can afford to be approached whimsically, not even the funniest of his comedies (which I believe this to be). This was an insult to the audience. Neither of the principals could be heard. Redgrave is, in the end, a movie actress; she simply does not have the power or the presence of, say, Judi Dench (who would have laughed Rylance’s idea out of court). I couldn’t hear a word she said. Couldn’t hear him either, except for “the world must be peopled”. Not by these two (there was a titter from the stalls). Many members of the audience (I’m sure I was not the only one) must have spent much of the time wondering whether James Earl Jones would last out a scene let alone an act or the play. In one early moment it took an age for him to sling a leg over the arm of the chair and all one could think about once he had managed it was how very uncomfortable the old man must be.
Much Ado is about young love. It is a play full of energy and quick wit. Rylance has managed to render it moribund and dull. Quite a feat.
To add insult to insult the programme contains an essay, fatuously entitled ‘The Burning Question’, on “the authorship debate”. There is no debate among serious scholars, and it is certainly not a “burning question”, except perhaps for those who do not take the plays seriously (as evidenced in this present production – Mark Rylance and Vanessa Redgrave both doubt the ability of William Shakespeare to have written them.)
We all left at the interval.