Much Ado About Nothing, The Globe, 1 June 2012
Beaucoup de Bruit Pour Rien began with a very drunk Borachio (François de Brauer) sweeping the stage with a broom. The audience quietened in anticipation of the play, but was rewarded with nothing more than Borachio’s bemused expression at the hush he had caused.
But there was not long to wait before the action got underway with Leonato (Jean-Claude Jay) talking on a mobile phone, hearing of the arrival of Don Pedro (Matthieu Marie). Beatrice (Alix Poisson) grabbed the phone from his hands to talk to the informant and asked whether Benedick (Bruno Blairet) had returned from the wars.
On her first appearance, Beatrice wore trousers, her hair was short and dark, and she smoked a pipe. This made her look almost but not quite like a 1920s lesbian. Her sarcastic barbs were delivered in a quirky voice and with exaggerated gestures.
This was an interesting way of portraying her, because it seemed to imply that her disdain for romantic love was the result of a lack of femininity. No aspersions were cast on Benedick’s manliness for displaying an analogous attitude to women.
Benedick was first seen sporting a matador jacket, kilt and a long wispy goatee.
The sartorial distinctiveness of Beatrice and Benedick was the product of a creative energy that also fuelled their furious clash of wits. But the fact that they shared this distinctiveness also hinted at the similarity of temperament that would ultimately unite them.
Don John’s (Nicolas Chupin) long dark coat matched his grim expression and ponytail. When plotting with Borachio he looked up mockingly at the balcony where people had gathered for a party and raged with such anger that he ran at the audience.
Claudio (Laurent Menoret) was tall, bald and in conversation with Benedick broke into song to make his declaration of love for Hero, which the audience applauded.
Beatrice continued to be on good form before the ball, clowning her way through her moan about leading apes in hell and performing a mocking impression of Hero’s (Suzanne Aubert) alleged submissiveness.
At the ball itself the couples danced in pairs wearing skull facemasks, with the speaking couple coming downstage for their dialogue. Antonio (Raphael Almosni) was a priest, which made Margaret (Aurélie Toucas) rubbing herself against him quite comical.
When it was Beatrice and Benedick’s turn to take centre stage, they faced forward and talked while performing side-steps in step with each other. However, her withering putdown of Benedick caused him to falter and became out of step.
Don Pedro assured Claudio that he had wooed Hero on his behalf. Interestingly, his metaphor about making a bird sing and restoring it to its rightful owner was spoken in Hero’s presence, which prompted her to flap her hands and twitter sarcastically. This indicated that some of Beatrice’s barbed sense of humour had rubbed off on her.
The gulling scenes saw Benedick and Beatrice using the stage pillars to hide from their taunters. Margaret and Hero praised Benedick by imagining having sex with him and faking loud orgasms.
Thinking Beatrice to be in love with him, Benedick smartened himself up. Continuing the Scottish theme, he wore tartan trousers and a faint trace of face paint. He tried to hide his newly shaved chin behind his hands. But Don Pedro put a glass of water on Benedick’s head, then dropped it, so that Benedick’s instinctive reflex to catch the glass caused him to reveal the results of his shaving.
Dogberry (Raphael Almosni again) made a big impression on his first appearance up through the trap door. The brightness of his yellow helmet complemented the exaggerated aggression of his movements and his wild staring eyes.
Borachio simply walked up to Dogberry and Verges (Nicolas Chupin again) and explained how he had tricked Claudio into believing that Hero had been unfaithful, and he was detained below the trap.
Beatrice, now wearing a feminine dress, helped Hero on the morning of her wedding. The pair looked into an imaginary mirror at the edge of the stage.
Dogberry and Verges caught up with Leonato. The first French Dogberryism provided some mirth for the francophones in the audience. He told Leonato of “une confidence qui vous consterne de près”.
This particular French Dogberryism was more apt that its English original. Whereas the English version has Leonato partaking of a confidence that discerns him nearly, in French Leonato becomes “consterné” or “dismayed”, which turned out to be an understatement.
The wedding itself took place immediately after the interval. Margaret sang at the start of the ceremony. Claudio dressed all in white, briskly but gently cast Hero aside before denouncing her, whereupon she fainted. Hero left her gloves on the ground, giving Benedick the opportunity to pick one of them up.
The staging provided a very powerful image of Leonato stood over Hero with a dagger in his hand on the point of committing an honour killing.
Beatrice also cut a strong figure standing downstage right and looking out at audience to request of Benedick “Tue Claudio”.
Dogberry and his “dissemblé” informed us that he and his men had “contrebandé” [smuggled] an offender. He was very put out to be described as “un âne” and asked whether Borachio had “suspect pour moi”. The poor officer of the watch was so distraught at the end of the scene that he hugged some of the groundlings to console himself.
A saxophonist up in the gallery played a doleful tune as Leonato expressed his sadness at the fate of his daughter. In keeping with his calm, poetic nature, Claudio had no sword to offer violence when challenged by Benedick, who entered with Hero’s glove on the hilt of his sword.
Later, Benedick entered through the yard trying to write a poem. After trying out some odd rhymes, news of Hero’s innocence was conveyed by Margaret from the middle gallery.
Don Pedro’s plan came to fruition as Beatrice and Benedick skirted round the topic of their affection for each other. Beatrice at first confessed and then backtracked on her love for him. But Benedick was single-mindedly and comically effusive in his protestations of undying love when saying he would follow her to see her uncle.
After a brief scene in which Claudio sang his words of remorse on the balcony before Hero’s tomb, the performance moved to its conclusion with the masked wedding.
Hero showed more of her rebellious spirit, symptomatic of Beatrice’s influence, when she was unmasked. She tussled briefly with Claudio in frustration that he had believed her capable of infidelity.
The long-overdue kiss between Beatrice and Benedick sealed their relationship. Benedick embraced her strongly enabling the enraptured Beatrice to lift her feet from the ground.
Don Pedro was told to get himself a wife as he left through yard, and the performance ended with a joyous dance.
This Compagnie Hypermobile production took a slightly quirky Beatrice and turned her into a marriageable woman, which had faint traces of The Taming of the Shrew. However, if Beatrice was in any way tamed into marrying Benedict, we had at least some consolation in seeing some of Beatrice’s fight rub off on Hero, who did not meekly accept Claudio’s mistrust.