Review – Much Ado About Nothing, Old Vic

Tuesday 17 September 2013

muchadoaboutnothing-oldvicGosh, how unwhingerish. Two Shakespeares in one week and on consecutive days no less.

A rare group outing and appropriately there was much ado about Much Ado About Nothing too. People were dropping out like all over the place. There were more withdrawals than a Roman orgy. 50% of the group fell by the wayside to be replaced by members on the waiting list. One person dropped out, dropped back in, then irritatingly dropped out again. Andrew never dropped in in the first place. Do we know a lot of people who possess the gift of foresight ?

There was always going to be curiosity value in Mark Rylance‘s production as something to tell the imaginary grandchildren about; the parts of Beatrice and Benedict are taken by Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones who come with an impressive combined age of 158 and grandchildren of their own (well, Redgrave does anyway).

In the interest of disclosure, we must state that this was an early preview so perhaps the lines will appear more secure in the leads’ heads by the opening (though possibly not according to someone who saw it 5 performances after us), voice projection improved and there will not be the seat-gripping tension of wondering if they will make it to the end of a sentence let alone the end of the play.

We’ve never seen a prompter sitting in the middle of the front row before. He was only utilised on one occasion and there was no problem with his projection, unsurprisingly his head was bobbing up and down over the text like one of those car back window dogs.

But it did detract from the tale of two pairs of lovers, Claudio and Hero and the aforementioned B and B, the adversarial latter pair disdain love but are tricked into believing the other is in love with them, providing the most entertaining scenes late into Act 1, hinting that everything might turn around and we might be treated to a satisfying second act. Quite a few obviously weren’t as optimistic and capitalised on the interval as a time to flee to safer ground. Some who stayed used Act 2 to catch up on sleep, including three on the end of our row and two in separate stage-side boxes, which must have been horribly disconcerting for the cast.

The biggest laugh of the evening came when a cast member borrowed a chair from one of the boxes. Was this improvised on the night to wake them up? It was a welcome moment of levity but did draw attention to the audience members’ naps.

Rylance locates his production in forties wartime Britain. Prince Don Pedro’s troops are visiting American GIs, that much we understood, but with so many early lines swallowed it’s best to arrive with a firm grip on the plot. Our party of 10, located in the 5th and 6th rows of the stalls all confessed to be unable to hear clearly initially and were struggling with plot details at the interval.

Things are not helped with the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre-ish decision to stage the action in evenly bright lighting throughout, this spills over half the stalls and doesn’t help the atmosphere. Ultz’s attractive but static set is a solid rectangular arch, looks like an art installation in a municipal hall and causes occasional sightline problems during key scenes even from good stalls seats. There is so much wooden veneer on display one might almost call it venereal.

Redgrave puts pauses into lines in strange places, but she did get a big laugh (from some, with a liking for the camper things in life) for her first appearance in knee-high laced up boots, corduroy jacket and carrying a shotgun and dead rabbits. Later she wears a pair of slacks most elegantly, but she’s also saddled with a terrible floral print dress which must have caused a few headaches even if you were seated in the far reaches of the Lilian Baylis Circle.

There’s a few decent performances among the supporting cast who attempt to inject some zip into the proceedings. Peter Wight is a splendid Dogberry/Friar and should teach some of the cast about vocal clarity. Tim Barlow steals scenes just banging cymbals or upstaging in the background doing a Wilson, Keppel and Betty style dance and there’s a neat twist on the leads’ senior ages by having the local Watch played by young children. And despite Jones’ fumbling or swallowing many lines he has a wonderfully likeable stage charisma which just about pulls him through.

A bit of a mess at this point, the stunt casting hasn’t paid off and it felt horribly under-rehearsed. No doubt things will improve, but at this third preview it did appear Rylance has much to do about an awful lot.

Rating

rating-score-2-5-slightly-corked-or-vinegary

25 Responses to “Review – Much Ado About Nothing, Old Vic”

  1. Barbara Says:

    oh dear, this does sound a bit off -putting. I live in NZ but am always encouraging my son who lives in London to go to the theatre. I went to the theatre such a lot of times as I lived in London 1941-1976 and have a really great time when I visit every couple of years.

  2. Wondercat Says:

    Dear Barbara, we saw a performance early last week with the same accoutrements: Prompter in centre of front row, chair filched from box… and the same house-managers’ rampant disdain for the audience, the disdain that sends actors out on stage who are unable to remember their lines or, with many, to speak them clearly. A dreadful botch and a great blot on the OLD VIC’s reputation, we thought. Neither we nor our guests can take for granted again that the house will offer professional theatre. Tell your son to take his money, and himself, elsewhere.

    • Peter Says:

      Anyone who goes to an early preview of a Shakespearean play starring two octogenarians is, in my books, an ambulance chaser. I know this is the territory the Whingers farm in and, to be honest, their report is respectful and forgiving. And optimistic. While it’s understandable to write this off to a piece of stunt casting, there is also something incredibly valuable about having two very mature actors tackle two of the greatest roles in the canon. I have just been reading reviews of Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad in ROMEO AND JULIET on Broadway and many of the reviews have been harping on their inexperience and lack of textual investgation.

      But to high-handedly deem the Old Vic to be suddenly unreliable and contemptuous of their audience is a bit of a head-scratcher, given the very uneven trajectory of Kevn Spacey’s tenure? And to draw a line between the house management and the acting is a bit of a stretch.

      Perhaps other products have irked you, as well, but to dismiss the Vic entirely because of an early preview of an obviously-challenging production reeks of officiousness. I suspect The Theatre (in general) is well rid of you.

  3. Dame Stephen Ward-Libber Says:

    That’s more like it, Whingers. It actually sounds worse than it did when announced. Sounds horrendous.

  4. shadowdaddy Says:

    “People were dropping out like all over the place.”

    Took me a minute to realize you didn’t mean “…at the interval,” which was certainly the case when we saw it.

    Rylance may have a long history directing Shakepeare but based on this I’d prefer he stick to acting.

  5. scohic Says:

    Oh dear, I’d just brought tickets to this as a birthday present for my Best Friends,now it looks like being another “Bea Arthur at The Savoy” mistake that I won’t live down for ten years.

    • Barbara Younis Says:

      Bin the tickets! Seriously – it’s just not worth it. It’s even more awful than the review suggests. How this was ever allowed to go on is a mystery.

  6. Naz Says:

    I took my sister for her birthday (Thursday 12). We left at the interval – and saw a lot of other people who had done the same thing.

    Such a disappointment. Flubbed lines (even with the front row prompter there to help), incomprehensible dialogue and thoroughly dislikeable characters. The fact that there is so much talent involved (JEJ, Redgrave, Rylance) makes it even more surprising and disappointing. How can they justify charging the prices they’re charging for such dross?! I do hope someone (braver than I) has asked for a refund!

    Press night apparently is this Thursday – I am agog as to what the reviews will be like.

  7. Camdeborde Says:

    Bravo the Whingers for such an accurate review! I, too, saw a very early preview. Such a lot of flubbing, stumbling and unintentional cuts to the text! Redgrave has her moments. James Garnon did a good job of holding the story together where he could. I could forgive the flawed lighting and (deeply) flawed stage design – even the somewhat half-hearted execution of the concept (Don Pedro’s victorious troops had all the military assurance of teenagers waiting in a bus queue) – but the leads’ lack of assurance was fatal. As a devout Redgrave fan, I hope very much that the production improves for the sake of both audience and cast.

  8. Kerry Says:

    We saw it last night – it wasn’t terrible but there were still quite a few fluffed lines and it just felt fuzzy and confused. Mostly I agree it’s very under-rehearsed.

  9. Billy Says:

    Perhaps old Vanessa thought the audience was merely a bunch of “zionist thugs” as she claimed in her Oscar speech, who did not deserve to hear Shakespeare’s words – or maybe she heard Andrew would not be there so gave up any pretense of projecting her dulcet tones…either way, Driving Miss Vanessa was doomed from the start.

    • Andy Humm Says:

      Ms. Redgrave’s phrase was “Zionist hoodlums,” not thugs and despite my admiration for her, it was wrong of her to say it. She didn’t work for a long time after that. But she’s done some fine work in recent years. Sorry to hear that this is a disaster. I’m hearing more and more that she is having trouble with her lines in shows.

  10. Nowt Ado Says:

    Agreed, it’s a major dud. They seemed to know the lines by last night but nothing will fix the frail, disconnected performances of the 2 stars. Save your dosh, everyone!

  11. David N Says:

    Sigh. Well, I shall just treasure memories of Rylance playing an Oirish Benedict to Janet McTeer’s tall and quirky Beatrice in Matthew Warchus’s production – how long ago was that? Best pairing I’ve seen, outshining even the overhyped SRB-Wanamaker duo (he very funny, she stagey when she needed to get serious).

  12. Sal Says:

    Not about Vanessa or JE Jones but another golden oldie: before the National Theatre’s anniversary festivities are broadcast in cinemas around the world, could Andrew use his sabbatical to plead with Dame Judi Dench to retire her weary “Send in the Clowns” – programmed yet again for the gala – which was wonderful two decades ago but has declined in quality and musicality ever since – her most recent trotting out of this chesnut at a cheesy Salute to Sondheim a couple years back was genuinely painful, maudlin, with even the Dench cracked voice sounding affected rather than moving as usual – please learn another song, Dame Judi !

  13. BJ Says:

    I’m sorry but the American accent does nothing for Shakespearean plays. We went on Monday night and sat four seats away from Mark Rylance, only until the interval though, we then left. Redgrave and JE Jones are far too old to play the parts they were given. At times I couldn’t understand what JE Jones was saying. As for the set, the large brown arch looked like an Ikea coffee table. I hate to say it but this production is, Much Ado About Nothing!


  14. […] impressed: “Rarely has a title for a Shakespearean show proven so prophetic.” Westendwhingers give it two out of five. Huffington Post raves about it: “This wonderful production has so […]

  15. Susan Says:

    Sadly some of the most inept professional acting I have ever seen. Press night tonight and JEJ still fumbling lines and murdering the text along with most of the male cast. Really sad for Old Vic as this is another Resurrection Blues disaster in the making.

  16. Chris Voisey Says:

    On the evidence of this I wouldn’t trust Mark Rylance to direct his piss into a bucket


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