Play #4: Much Ado About Nothing

Last night we saw Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic. Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones starred in a production set in 1944, with the idea being that Jones and the other soldiers were Tuskegee Airmen stopping off in England.

Let me preface this by saying that my dad saw James Earl Jones as Othello in, I think, the 1970s or ’80s. I was excited for this as a sort of family legacy thing, especially since the tricks and the cuckold (symbol of a husband who’s been cheated on) jokes in Much Ado kind of set it up as a parallel to Othello.

It wasn’t the grandiose experience I’d hoped it would be, but it was pretty good. Vanessa Redgrave was great–I can’t think of any way to describe her other than snappy. Her casual ferocity made Beatrice feel very natural. James Earl Jones established a great, kind of baffled clownishness, but he seemed to fumble with his lines (I’m choosing to chalk it up to the fact that they’re only three days into the run). At one point, he needed a prompt, but at other points he improvised and riffed, which was kind of cool but also a little bit frightening as an audience member.  Most of the supporting cast was fantastic, but the actor who played Don John, who was British, had a very forced American accent. Forced in the sense of exaggeration and also in the sense that my vocal cords were sympathetically aching. On the other hand, I was impressed by how sympathetic and dynamic they made Claudio and Hero (who I normally think of as boring/flighty).

The play also had a lovely aesthetic: walls paneled with dark wood, and a massive arch made out of what seemed to be three sides of a cube.  A Victrola on the left side of the stage burbled jazz music, and at the end Beatrice and Benedick sat in camp chairs reading the newspaper and sharing coffee out of a big thermos. Given the “merry war,” it was nice to end on a vision of how the couple could work.