THERE IS nothing worth noting in this witless production of “Much Ado About Nothing” from erstwhile notable actor Mark Rylance. Here ye’ll find nought more than a fustilarian troop of robustious, periwig-pated fellows, capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise. Shakespeare’s glorious language falls not trippingly on their tongues, but so garble they his prose that we poor groundlings as as lief as hear the noise of town criers speaking his lines.
Herewith a play that sucketh mightily.
“Much Ado…” is but a minor play, little more than a walking shadow, a midsummer madness in his glorious ouvre. And yet, I have indeed in the past found great revelry in its wanton idiocies, when performed with the wit in which it was writ. Forsooth, the goodly Mr Rylance has sought to reimagine this tale of young, feisty sparring lovers as a mirthless septuagenarian romance with Vanessa Redgrave (Beatrice) and James Earle Jones (Benedick) as perchance not the virgin’s sweet blush, but love’s rekindled flame. T’is passing strange. And these two, in the sear and yellow leaves of their lives, enfeeble any honesty of dalliance. As they say, when the age is in, the wit is out.
Jones in particular, clad in an ill-fitting army green one-sie, appears but a swollen parcel of dropsies, a huge bombard of sack as fat as butter. Army indeed! For Mr. Rylance’s BIG idea is to set the action sometime at the end of the (second world) war. A troop of racially mixed Americans led on by Don Pedro, are returning, demobbing as it were, from glorious victories to frolic in the cavernous halls of Leonato, governor of Messina. Unlike the National’s brilliant recent “Othello” which was set in Afghanistan, which setting helped powerfully to intensify the drama, Rylance’s awkward, unlikely, fantastical interracial WW2 period drama feels, i’faith, forced and artificial. Here truth, reason and love keep not good company.
And as if the producers were bereft of purses well endowed with gold, their parsimoniously spare stage setting, that compriseth but a single vast wooden arch standing in for both bower and church, is all there is to prompt our dull’d imaginations and divert our drooping eyes. Tho’ in the paucity and tiredness of this design, there lies, perhaps more truth than was intended. For in this out of joint production, it joined together the efforts of the cast in like dullness.
My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. I bid thee, dear reader, stay away from this farraginious production, this evening calumny, this scullion of performers that hath so bereft me of words.