Reviewed by Hannah August.
The penultimate play performed as part of the Globe to Globe festival was Compagnie Hypermobile’s Beaucoup de bruit pour rien – or Much Ado About Nothing. This is a play that relies heavily on the charm of verbal sparring partners Beatrice and Benedick to carry a modern audience past the unpalatable and barely believable reconciliation of lovers Claudio and Hero (to remind you: she consents to marry him even though he’s accused her of being a whore in front of all their assembled friends and relatives, and then, to show his remorse at her ‘death’, promptly agreed to wed another woman).
So it’s a shame that Alix Poisson’s Béatrice and Bruno Blairet’s Benedict take a while to warm to: costumed in a ridiculous purple tartan kilt and sporting comedy facial hair, he appears a buffoon, while she, capering manically in a man’s suit while chewing on a pipe, comes across as callous and shrewish. Their costumes become more toned-down and stereotypically gender-appropriate after they are tricked into believing that they’re one another’s beloved, and it’s clear that director Clément Poirée wants to make a point about the transformative power of love, but their characterisation in Act 1 makes it hard to believe they’d ever want to reciprocate the other’s supposed affection.
Their metamorphosis won over an initially unresponsive house, however, and the ‘Aaahs’ and scattered clapping that followed Beatrice’s “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest” were testament to the number of French speakers in the audience. While the production’s design lacked coherence and the whole thing felt very much as though it had been transported from a proscenium arch theatre to the Globe stage (the use of pre-recorded music and an unfortunate voiceover were jarring), there were nevertheless high points.
François de Brauer’s Borachio simulating an imagined sexual encounter between Hero and Claudio in the Lords’ Room was hilarious for those who could see it, and Raphael Almosni was a wonderfully unhinged Dogberry, eliciting howls of laughter with his heavily French-accented interjections of “Shut up you bitch!” in response to the imprisoned Borachio’s attempts to reason with him. Suzanne Aubert’s Hero’s decision to slap Claudio (Laurent Menoret) prior to kissing him at their second wedding went some way towards mitigating the awkwardness of this scene, which can be as unsettling as the final moments of Measure for Measure if we’re given too much time to reflect on Hero’s psychology (particularly when her fiancé is the kind of person who’ll kick an old man’s stick out from under him, as Menoret’s Claudio did to Antonio in this production).
A bit of a mixed bag, and without quite enough visual humour to satisfy the monolingual in the audience (my friend left in the interval), this Much Ado was nothing to write to home about, but did provide a diverting Friday afternoon passe-temps for those of us wanting to dust off our French.
The Globe to Globe festival has now finished.