Benedick (James Earl Jones) and Claudio (Lloyd Everitt) with their superior Don Pedro (James Garnon) just returned from the war. They come to Leonato’s (Michael Elwyn) where they wish to stay for a while. Claudio immediately falls in love again with Leonato’s daughter Hero (Beth Cooke) while Benedick and Leonato’s niece Beatrice (Vanessa Redgrave) fight as much as they’re able to. Pedro wants to see everybody end up together, while Pedro’s half-brother John (Danny Lee Winter) does his best to sabotage everything.
It had been a while that I saw any version of this play, but I remembered that it was funny. And with Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones in the cast, I thought that I was all set for an entertaining evening. But I was wrong. Incredibly wrong. Oh boy, I don’t think I was ever that wrong before.
It all started with the fact that the first 20 minutes or so were practically incomprehensible. It wasn’t the first time I saw a Shakespeare play and usually I understand well enough to at least get the gist of what people are saying. But in this case there was no chance. [I later googled it and it seems it was not a problem of my lacking English.] Things got suddenly better after that first half hour. I wonder what changed.
The play wasn’t helped either by the production design that was made up of a brown in brown minimalist and frankly boring and irritating stage, with actors in brown in brown and sometimes beige costumes. I was desperate for a splash of color. And, actually, for a little help to tell the actors apart from all the way in the back where we were sitting.
So it was already boring to look at and hard to understand, but then they made most of the characters personality-free, and stripped even the WW2-setting of any possible impact, just to complete the clusterfuck. And to add insult to injury, they then started singing. And even though the first song was beautiful (the rest not my case), it served no real story purpose and instead just made the whole thing feel longer still.
I think we were all thinking about leaving during the break but the utter lack of energy from the play had paralyzed us as well, so we sat through it to the end. We probably shouldn’t have.
Summarizing: Watch only if you want to uncover the mystery of how anybody could make a Shakespeare comedy boring.