Theatre Review: “Much Ado About Nothing” (RSC, 2014)

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Edward Bennett (Benedick) and Michelle Terry (Beatrice).

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As I’ve explained in my review of Love’s Labour’s Lost (RSC 2014), this production was presented as Love’s Labour’s Won by the Royal Shakespeare Company. This was a controversial decision that confused audiences and led to heated debate among scholars, since Love’s Labour’s Won is either the title of a lost Shakespeare play or an alternative title for an existing play. Which one? Who knows! An episode of  Doctor Who was dedicated to it, that’s the level of mystery we’re talking here. Still, I can see why one would want to stage these plays as a duology: they are variations on similar themes. Both Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing have a distinct male and female group, men asked to prove their love, strong female characters who are more demanding than forgiving, clear class differences, and a whole lot of banter. Some critics have even argued that Berowne and Rosaline were a kind of try-out for Beatrice and Benedick.

The setting is the same (Charlecote Park, post-WWI this time) and most of the cast members return, but this production fails exactly where Love’s Labour’s Lost so gloriously succeeded: using the setting to enhance the themes of the story.

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Theatre Review: “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (RSC, 2014)

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Read my book review of Love’s Labour’s Lost here.

In 2014, the RSC performed a trilogy of plays set before (Love’s Labour’s Lost), during (The Christmas Truce), and right after World War One (Much Ado About Nothingreview here), thus tying into the year’s centenary commemoration events. The two Shakespeare plays were presented as the Love’s Labour’s duology: Much Ado was retitled Love’s Labour’s Won (a controversial decision resulting in many confused people in the audience and furious debate among Shakespeare scholars), the majority of the cast performed in both plays, and both used the same setting: Charlecote Park, a grand country house and estate a few kilometres away from Stratford-upon-Avon where some say Shakespeare poached a deer and got arrested for it.

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Theatre Review: “The White Devil” (RSC, 2014)

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Vittoria (Kristy Bushell) and Brachiano (David Sturzaker) with Flamineo (Laura Elphinstone) watching in the background.

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Read my book review of The White Devil by John Webster here.

A few hours before we attended the RSC 2014 production of John Webster’s The White Devil (Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon), my fellow students and I attended a lecture by Martin Wiggins at the Shakespeare Centre. He spoke passionately about how these characters are all prisoners of circumstance, driven to crime without the financial means to sustain their honour, and discussed the play’s detached analysis of morality whilest quoting Hamlet (“nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so”). All interesting points, but Wiggins barely touched upon what struck me the most about the play when I first read it: its depiction of brutal misogyny. My professor seemed to agree and raised his hand to ask Wiggins about it: “But what about gender?” Wiggins pulled a “not this again” face, the face of a man who has gotten this question a lot lately and is starting to get a little annoyed. “That is not what Webster’s play is about, though.” Seeing the quick look of skepticism my professor and I exchanged, he added: “you will see that the current production makes much of gender, but it is a jazz riff on the text, not a straightforward representation.”

A number of critics seem to agree with Wiggins: this is director Maria Aberg’s The White Devil, not John Webster’s. But is this really a problem?

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