Much Ado About Nothing

Posted by Laurence Green

Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones fail to convince in Shakespeare's classic comedy reworked at the Old Vic.

Much Ado about Nothing starring James Earl Jones as BenedickI am always in favour of plays about mature [people seizing one last chance of love late in life but this idea proves ill judged in Mark Rylance's misconceived production of Shakespeare's timeless comedy Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic Theatre.

The setting here is an English village in 1944 with Don Pedro and his men stationed at a US airbase nearby. While young lovers Claudio and Hero have their forthcoming nuptials threatened by the resentful scheming of a Prince, marriage seems out of the question for Beatrice and Benedick, here played by 76-year-old Vanessa Redgrave and 82 year-old James Earl Jones as reluctant lover, grouchily bickering their way into each other’s hearts.

It seems perverse to have these elderly thespians playing parts specifically written for people a quarter their age and indeed Beatrice's uncle Leonato (Michael Elwyn) seems younger than her. Furthermore neither Redgrave or Earl Jones can produce the requisite crackle of electricity to make us believe in the feelings. Benedick is renowned for his wit, but Earl Jones, whom I feel is miscast, seems to garble his lines and his long pauses and repetitions convey a palpable sense of effort. Redgrave, on the other hand, is much more fluent though it takes a great leap of imagination to accept a Beatrice who often seems like a mad old bat. And while the pair suggest a wry affection for each other, it is not enough to ignite the play.

However, some of the minor roles emerge with a certain amount of credit, notably Danny Lee Wynter as an obdurate villainous Don John, Peter Wight as a genuinely funny Dogberry and Melody Grove who steals every scene she is in as Margaret.

The production is further hampered by Ultz's minimalist wooded set that is more of an eyesore than an enhancement.

I was also dismayed to see so many characters smoking on stage, particularly when it is not specified in the text.

Surely it is about time that theatre directors reverted to staging Shakespeare in its original Elizabethan costumes with actors of roughly the same age their characters are supposed to be rather than trying to update the work and present their own often disastrous interpretations.


Much Ado About Nothing

Runs at The Old Vic until Saturday 30 November

Box office: 0844 871 7628 

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