Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Programme Notes: Much Ado About Nothing at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

A and I had a great time at the press night of Much Ado About Nothing, the season opener at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre.

It was a great show, a lovely bit of Shakespeare in a great venue. And I reviewed it for londonist.

But I've got a bone to pick with Viv Groskop, who supplies the programme notes.

A little research has shown that Viv is something of a top journalist. But I can only presume that she was having an off-day when she put together the couple of pages entitled "Much Ado About Beatrice and Benedick" for the Open Air Theatre programme. Or that she was hoping for a sub to turn it into something more meaningful with that punctuation stuff...

Beatrice we're told, is "way ahead of her time. So much so that she's maybe even ahead of our own time. In any case she makes Bridget Jones look like a lovesick fool."

Riiight. Isn't Bridget Jones a lovesick fool?

The other thing that wound me up was the seemingly unavoidable paragraph about those gender complications... I'm so bored of it. "It's important to remember, though" Viv tells us "that in Shakespeare's time (no comma) all the female roles would have been played by men in drag:
The role of Beatrice could have easily been played to extreme ironic effect by a male actor. It's only now that she can truly come across as an intelligent and sparky heroine. When Beatrice wails, 'Oh God, that I were a man!' and wants to avenge Hero herself, we feel her injustice. In Elizabethan times, the line would have got a laugh (because she really was a man - and probably in seriously bad drag). It's only today, stripped of the added layer of gender confusion provided by Elizabethan casting, that the play can have a multitude of messages which stretch from the comical to the political.
Gah: where to start?
  • Were there really no intelligent and sparky Beatrices back in the day?
  • Were all the members of the play's early audiences just sitting there thinking, "God, I can't wait until women can play these roles and so later audiences can finally enjoy this great piece of writing."
  • Can we ever know what those audiences were thinking?
  • Were contemporaneous audiences really laughing more than us, knowing there's a joke there that won't exist in 400 years' time, when women are allowed on stage?!
  • And I really dislike the use of the word "drag" here: twice. I don't know about you; is there something sexual about the term? Derogatory? Belittling? I don't know why, but I just don't think it's right in this context.
  • Did the play have but one message in Shakespeare's day?
It just feels like lazy writing to me. And I really don't like lazy writing.

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