Play: Much Ado About Nothing
Year Produced: 2011
Eve Best – Beatrice
Charles Edwards – Benedick
Ony Uhiara – Hero
Phil Cumbus – Claudio
Matthew Pidgeon – Don John
This filmed version of a 2011 production of Much Ado About Nothing was done with the excellence and high quality that one would expect from the Globe theater. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to go and see a production like this one live!
One thing that captivated me from the start with this production is the dynamic between Beatrice and Benedick. Namely, that Eve Best and Charles Edwards really managed to capture the spirit of two very smart, intensely clever people, who are so busy trying to out-think each other that they never really stop to listen. They both play their characters sliiiiiiightly to the smug side of things, initially, with a lot of energy and really pointed verbal sparring.
Another thing that stood out to me (and a subsequent deletion of the text in one very early scene) was how utterly lovely and captivating Ony Uhiara is as Hero. Having seen this play so many times, I immediately noticed that Benedick does not say she is ‘Too brown for a faint praise,’ which is likely because Uhiara is, in fact, a British actress of Nigerian descent. So I can see why they cut that line.
Phil Cumbus as Claudio is very earnest, a little skittish, a little anxious when it comes to matters of the heart. I definitely get the sense that he’s a much better soldier than lover, but he’s trying, and he doesn’t always get it right. When he fears, initially, that Don Pedro has woo’d the lovely hero for himself, he stomps out like a petulant boy, even scowling at the audience when they react to him; when he has her hand in his and the truth is out, Hero looks glowing, and he, well, he looks rather like he’s been hit in the head with a plank.
When she plants one on him, he staggers backwards, and it’s just friggin’ adorable.
Count Claudio, when mean you to go to church?
—Act 2, Scene 1 (sort of)
Don John plays his role very restrained in this production, which, granted, is there in the text. He is the guy who says, hey, everybody, I’m the villain, here I am, Villain McBadguy, I want to do bad things, hey hey watch me do bad things. All that said, Don John is a hard role to pull off because he is so straightforward in his motivations. He is jealous of the attention that his brother pays to Claudio. Matthew Pidgeon plays his Don John slightly Scottish, and is clad in black, and when (in Act 3, Scene 2) he gives this false information to Claudio and Don Pedro, he seems to be a hovering crow in comparison to Claudio’s earnest Golden Retriever. He plays the scene as if only he is aware of the audience, and the audience’s opinion of him—and then, when the other two go in, he turns back to them and nods and smiles as they boo and hiss him, soaking it up. They even have him split his line there, addressing his “So will you say when you have seen the sequel!” directly back to us viewers. Delightful.
Reaching the wedding scene, the earlier choices really serve Claudio here, because he absolutely unloads on Hero, on her father, on everyone. And we see in him the soldier, and this, another skirmish.
A battle to conquer himself, because he still loves her, even though he believes the worst of her. He throws her to the ground, grabs her, parades her around, shows her face to the audience as if to say, here, look, could you make any other choice? Tell me I’m making the right choice. Absolutely heartbreaking.
I know with this play I tend to get more focused on the Hero/Claudio arc. I don’t know why that is! There is certainly no deficiency in this production’s Beatrice and Benedick, and any little nitpicks about the production are really so small they shouldn’t be so distracting. Beatrice’s hair is, out of nowhere, styled like she’s been at a rave all day, and Benedick’s affectations when he is at his most exuberant and intense remind me of Michael Palin from Monty Python. (Which is ironic, because Charles Edwards has played Michael Palin in a biopic recently, so, there ya go.) Neither of these things are bad things, and I very much like their characters individually.
In Act 4, Scene 1, when the two adorable idiots finally admit that they do love each other, I love the pacing of it, but there’s something still about Beatrice being so distracted by what’s just happened (which I totally get, and agree with) that her professions of love are… hollow at the start. Its only when he comes back, asks her, believes her, and commits to challenging Claudio, that she stills long enough to give us that true emotion. It’s a much more nuanced performance than I’ve seen in a theater production, and having the camera angles and the ability to see it in her face, in her eyes, is a different experience (I assume) than just watching it. That said, one thing I do not like about the staging of this scene is the way Benedick sort of manhandles her to prevent her from leaving. I feel like it’s too soon, too much of an echo to what Claudio has just done to Hero. The power dynamic doesn’t work for me, if only for that beat.
On the flip side, Hero and Claudio are cast (and played) relatively young, while Beatrice and Benedick are a little more mature, which I love, because it shows the contrast between that impulsive love, and the love that comes from long-term friendship. The whole reason why Claudio can even have his love be so quickly eroded—why he doesn’t even bother to verify the accusations—is that he’s impulsive, inexperienced, and doesn’t trust in Hero. And to quote the Tango Roxanne, without trust, there can be no love. With Bea and Ben cast in their late thirties / early forties, though, we see that the reason they grow to love each other is because they both come to know themselves, then trust in the fact that they are loveable, and then be receptive to love. It’s a mutual drawing together. Which is kinda my jam.
“Peace! I will stop your mouth!”
Awww yiss, Ben. Get it.