much ado about nothing

Shakespeare at the Globe is really for the tourists. There is a lot of dancing and singing and the actors mingle with the audience in the well of the open air theatre. It can all be great fun.

One imagines Shakespeare set the original play at a time immediately after The Battle of Lepanto (1571), where the Spanish/Italian forces of the Holy League defeated the fleet of the Ottomans in hand to hand conflict on galleys in the Gulf of Patras in the Ionian Sea. The victorious forces, but notably the friends, Benedick, Claudio and Don Pedro return to Messina, where they set about renewing their conquest of the local women. Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter, rather curiously named, Hero, but Don Juan, Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, tricks Claudio into believing that Hero is unfaithful. Hurt and enraged, the gullible Claudio denounces her on the day of their wedding. She faints and Claudio is told she has died. Meanwhile, the guards, the cognitively-challenged Dogbery and his assistant tell of Don Juan’s plot to convince Claudio of Hero’s infidelity.  Claudio is stricken with guilt and loss but is told that he can redeem himself by marrying Hero’s cousin.  Meanwhile Beatrice and Benedick, whose relationship had consisted of trading insults – always a sure sign of sexual interest – are each tricked into believing that the other loves them. This causes them both to pause their hostility and let down their defences. It has all been a lot of fuss about nothing.  Don Juan is banished and in a double celebration, Claudio discovers at the alter that the ‘cousin’ is really Hero and Benedick and Beatrice consummate their love.

Setting Much Ado about Nothing at the time of the Mexican Revolution (c 1914) was quite brilliant. In that colourful and somewhat romantic conflict followers of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata included women as well as men. The victorious revolutionaries arrive on a packed goods train with a Mariarchi band on the roof and a lot of shouting and shooting.  This highly charged context of revolution lent itself to a surfeit of sexual excitement and intrigue, where relationships were apt to get confused. It is a fast moving play,  Matthew Dunster, the director, was inventive in casting.  The spirited Beatrice and the surly Benedict worked well together as revolutionaries and lovers. Don Pedro was a leader (Zapata?) who had more serious things on his mind than romance. The treacherous Don Juan became the sinister Donna Juanita and instead of Dogbery and his guard, there was an inept and linguistically challenged American camera crew, who captured Juanita’s treachery on film.

With such a young, energetic cast, plenty of action and splashes of humour, all set in Shakespeare’s Southbank open air theatre, it must have been as much of a hit in 1598 as it was last week.