Friday, December 13, 2013

Much Ado and A Curious Incident

Two old friends.
A visit to London means a visit to a London theatre - or two. Here's a couple of real contrasts:

Much Ado About Nothing

'Much Ado About Nothing' - Shakespeare at the Old Vic, with Beatrice played by Vanessa Redgrave and Benedick by James Earl-Jones; Mark Rylance directing. With those kind of names, how could you go wrong? But permit me a little whinge here about the self-indulgence of famous directors. I've been irritated a couple of times by some very obscure plays thrust upon unsuspecting audiences by Benedict Andrews, saved (and sometimes even not saved) by the inclusion of Cate Blanchett. "Oh, Ive always been enthralled by this peculiar and obscure foreign drama since I had to study it in drama college..." - OK, but leave us out of it, please.

In the case of Mr Rylance, for whom I have the very greatest respect, and the two extraordinary performers he cast as his 'young lovers'...well, it didn't really work all that well. It worked, because they all are who they are, but just not that well. Try something else next time.

Apart from the elderly character of the lovers, there were the American accents. Shakespeare's 'Much Ado' was transported to England in 1944, a change I think worked. But one reason for this choice (according to the program) was so that Mr Earl-Jones, and others, did not need to alter their usual speaking accent. Perhaps I'm the only one who'll say it, but Shakespeare doesn't translate easily to delivery in an American accent. One's ear has to make enough of an adjustment to old English - old English with a drawl is even harder. I snoozed through much of the first half.

I'm pleased to report, however, that the second half had me far more engaged, principally due to the brilliant duo; and also because the story is so annoyingly sexist (that father should be shot for believing the worst of his daughter so easily...) But I digress... Perhaps I'm making much ado about, er, nothing.

But's a reviewer who was also unimpressed:
This production came about when Mark Rylance saw Vanessa Redgrave and the great American actor James Earl Jones starring together in Driving Miss Daisy in the West End.
Rylance went backstage to congratulate them and, never a slouch when it comes to oddball ideas, suggested that they should play Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado. Redgrave jumped at the chance so long as Rylance directed and now here are all three of them together at the Old Vic.
There are moments, quite a few actually, when one wishes that Rylance had kept his big mouth shut. Beatrice and Benedick may be past the first flush of youth, but I don’t think anyone until now has thought of them as old age pensioners.
Ah yes, 'Driving Miss Daisy' was a much better casting decision.

Mathematical curiosities.
A Curious Incident

Across town, at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue, is the long-running National Theatre production of, of all things, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" - not a book you'd think would be easily translated to the stage. Mark Haddon's book about an autistic boy (or at least one at the Asbergers end of the spectrum) has been rather brilliantly adapted by Simon Stephens.

The pivotal and demanding role of Christopher Boone was performed by the young actor Mike Noble when I attended, and -- well, wow! The rest of the cast were very able: his teacher Siobhan - Rakie Ayola; his father Ed - Trevor Fox. his mother Judy - Amanda Drew; and a busy ensemble playing everyone else. Plus a live rat playing 'Toby.'

The set is a cube covered in a an mathematical grid which cleverly acts as everything from a blackboard to a train track. The whole thing melds so beautifully that you're never left wondering what's going on. The story, of course, is brilliantly told from Christopher's point of view in Haddon's book, and that sense also comes across in the play. A 'must see.'

Here's a review (though of a different, earlier, cast).

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