An enquiring mind can be a terrible thing; I made the mistake of checking up on Zoë Wanamaker's age and discovered that she's 3 years younger than Felicity Kendall. Not really relevant other than that I first saw Much Ado about Nothing in 1989 starring said Felicity Kendall and Alan Bates and I mistakenly thought she was a little old for the role. I was wrong of course, age-wise (and otherwise if I could claim to remember) she was fine.
Age-wise Zoë Wanamaker is probably too old for the role of Beatrice and although she didn't look or act like it, the fact of her age popped into my mind at inopportune moments. Interestingly the programme goes into some detail about how old Benedicks could be which may have been coincidence or a way of saying that if the men could get away with being old then why not the women?
In fairness if anyone wasn't quite right for his role it was Simon Russell Beale who was a bit too much the Prince's jester and not enough the tall, fine-looking soldier as I believe Benedick is described somewhere. This isn't really a complaint because he was a lot of fun in the role and he and Zoë Wanamaker had good chemistry.
One thing that I think they tried to do in this production was to indicate that the Beatrice and Benedick are in love before the play starts but are each too scared of ridicule from the other to announce it. I heard familiar lines illustrating the interest they had in each-other (Beatrice wanting news of Benedick, Benedick pointing out the greater beauty – age memory alert – of Beatrice) with more or just imagined emphasis. There were also little touches like the bunch of flowers that Benedick appeared to be bringing for someone when he first entered. It also made me realise that the line about Beatrice lending Benedict her heart, really needs to be better explained in the play.
Mark Addy and Trevor Peacock are likely to get a lot of praise for Dogberry and Verges, their scenes were funny, assured and moved along quickly. However, for me, Mark Addy didn't quite surpass Sarah Woodward in the all-female version of the play at the Globe a few years back. I realise of course that I'm not comparing like with like, the performances had each had their own style.
I keep wanting to describe the set as a grandiose rotating pergola. That doesn't make it sound as good or as impressive as it was but somehow captures it for me. Although it was an open structure with close set wooden uprights forming a central see-through wall I failed to notice people uncovering the pond. And although Simon Russell Beale was very funny when he fell into the pond, I felt that when Zoë Wanamaker fell in later it was almost because her agent had insisted on her having a comic immersion too.
The rotating set together with several cast members in common (Zoë Wanamaker, Susannah Fielding and Maggie McCarthy) reminded me of The Rose Tattoo earlier this year. I half expected a goat to be chased around the set.
In my opinion, Wanamaker was the perfect age for the role of Beatrice, as had she been any younger she would have seemed more eligible and, even with her sharpness, other men would have been interested in her. I also feel this would have made Benedick's affections toward her would have seem a little less sincere; a little more stereotyped, if you will. One of the chief aspects about the acting in this performance was the vulnerability of the character's was really highlighted, and the age at which Beatrice and Benedick were potrayed helped this: it gave Beatrice's talk of becoming a spinster a touch of underlying melancholy at the seeming nearness of it becoming a possiblity, rather than a younger woman's joke at her stubborness never to marry.
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