Mark Rylance, an actor who won a Laurence Olivier Award for the role of Benedick in a prior production of Much Ado About Nothing, took a turn at directing the piece.
Staged at the Old Vic Theatre in London under Kevin Spacey’s artistic leadership, the production of Much Ado About Nothing was somewhat unconventional due to its casting of iconic lovers, Benedick and Beatrice. Taking on the roles usually reserved for youngsters were Vanessa Redgrave who was 76 and James Earl Jones who was aged 82.
Not only did Mark Rylance tamper with the usual casting, he also moved the setting of the piece to 1944 wartime rural England. Whilst presumably this was a nod to the military themes running throughout the show, many critics had mixed feelings regarding the decision.
Sceneographically speaking, Ultz’s designs were somewhat sterile, with many suggesting the show looked as if it were staged under a giant wooden Wagamama table.
This production of Much Ado About Nothing ran from September 19th – 30th November 2013.
Cast and Creative
Leonato – Michael Elwyn
Don Pedro – James Garnon
Claudio – Lloyd Everitt
Antonio – Alan David
Benedick – James Earl Jones
Beatrice – Vanessa Redgrave
Beryl – Katherine Carlton
Hero – Beth Cooke
Don John – Danny Lee Wynter
Margret – Melody Grove
Borachio – Kingsley Ben-Adir
Conrade – Trevor Laird
Verges – Tim Barlow
Ursula – Penelope Beaumont
Friar Francis & Dogberry – Peter Wight
Members of the creative team include Ultz as designer, Mimi Jordan Sherin as lighting designer, Emma Laxton on sound, Sian Williams providing movement and Clare van Kampen providing music.
Rylance’s production of Much Ado About Nothing was met with disappointment from the critics. The majority of reviews pointed out the nonsensical nature of the casting, with The Guardian saying “You can’t help wondering why Earl Jones’s Benedick is a boon companion to the youthful Claudio or why Redgrave’s Beatrice, however youthful in spirit, appears to be older than her uncle.” Similarly The Telegraph’s Charles Spencer labelled the piece “laborious and misguide.”
Bad reviews aside, the critics were unanimous in their admiration for Redgrave and Jones as actors, they just did not think the piece played to their strengths.