Drunk Theatre Week: “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Old Vic

Q: So, this Much Ado hasn’t been getting very good reviews, gosh! How drunk were you for this one?


WELCOME to this, the last post of Drunk Theatre week! I hope you have reading about the plays as much as I did experiencing them.

Monday: Edward II at the National Theatre
Tuesday: Shitfaced Shakespeare at Edinburgh Fringe
Thursday: Total Hero Team at the Camden Head
Saturday: Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic

old vic much ado

More than anything else I just feel bad for everybody involved in this production, except Mark Rylance and the set designer, because everything that failed about this production (which was most of it) in my opinion was due to poor direction, and that shitty, shitty set.

Firstly, it was atrociously under-rehearsed. I don’t think James Earl Jones’ problems remembering his lines were down to elderly memory problems – he’s been very successful in long runs onstage very recently. I just think the production was very carelessly directed – if there was any blocking at all, for any character, other than “shuffle around upstage”, I certainly didn’t see any evidence of it – and that carelessness leaked over into the leads. I don’t mean that Mr Jones was consciously thinking “well, if my director can’t be fucked I’m certainly not going to be fucked”, but that the atmosphere of a careless rehearsal room leads to careless artists. The effect was two and three-quarter hours of Mr Jones wandering around occasionally saying words (not always the right words, not always in the right order, and hardly ever with any sense of meaning except for “Now is the time that sounds are supposed to come out of my mouth”), which was (a) tense and thrilling (WHAT WILL HE SAY NEXT?!) but also (b) only to be expected.

Vanessa Redgrave was fine; Vanessa Redgrave could be third spear-carrier in the world’s worst amdram production of Cymbeline and she would be, at minimum, absolutely fine, and would have at least two of those wonderfully transcendent and clear line readings that make you sigh and go, “Oh, Vanessa Redgrave“. Here it was “there was a star danced, and under that was I born” and “O Lord! He will hang upon him like a disease”.

There were some good parts.

  • The Watch were very keen Scouts; this was adequately funny.
  • “My dear lady Disdain, are you yet living?” in the context of the age shift was actually very funny.
  • My girl Hero was clear, confident and quiet because she didn’t feel the need to be loud; she wasn’t trampled down by Beatrice’s agitated effervescence, but was simply perfectly content to sit out on the porch every night with a glass of pinot grigio and appreciate her friends, family and home.

However, most of it was just shufflingly awful, and my particular favourite moment of crap blocking was at the masked ball, when the music kicked up and Margaret and Borachio-I-assume did this dance move that I can only describe as “Hey, I think I remember half a swing dance thing from a class I took in sixth form, do you want to try it?” You are at the Old Vic, Mark Rylance, you can afford to hire a proper choreographer! Also the set was terrible, a giant open-ended box that at the interval we heard described as “Like a table at Wagamama’s”, “a giant’s IKEA castoff” and “What…is this doing here other than fucking up the acoustics and making everyone wonder when someone will climb on top?” (that was me). Eventually Claudio did climb on top for Hero’s funeral, after it had been covered with one of those grey waterproof fitted tarpaulins you pull over your tent in case it rains.

I actually had a very jolly time when we saw it; it was our wedding anniversary and Ewan and I had been drinking sparkling wine since mid-afternoon and I saw no reason to stop (and quite a few reasons to continue) when we got to the theatre. I’d read a few early reviews and was prepared for a fuzzy, disappointing production and that is what I got. My favourite was talking to the elderly woman on Ewan’s left after the show, who I estimate was in her late seventies, who shook her head about James Earl Jones’ line problems. “He’s getting on, poor duck,” she said, before recounting in detail her favourite moments of the 1993 production when Rylance played Benedick with Janet McTeer as Beatrice.

VERDICT: By some accounts the issues with lines have been sorted out by now, but the staging and set still remain vastly awful. Unless you’re really set on seeing James Earl Jones or Vanessa Redgrave live, WOULD NOT RECOMMEND DRUNK OR SOBER.

4 thoughts on “Drunk Theatre Week: “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Old Vic

  1. Oh, this pissed me off. It wasn't quite as much of a trainwreck as I had anticipated (people mainly did know their lines, although a biggish chunk of the wedding scene got missed out – I suppose it might have been cut, but it would've been a pretty odd choice to make) but everyone involved should have known better. The Old Vic is not cheap, and to present such a poorly-staged, under-rehearsed mess to people who might have paid the best part of fifty quid for their tickets is not on. Leaving aside the set (big ask), it wasn't even fun; despite the fact that so many people were racing and garbling their lines, the whole evening felt interminable. There was a weird lack of chemistry between JEJ and VR, while people like James Garnon, who I've loved in everything I've seen him in, were phoning it in, and the accents were all over the place. Difficult play to screw up, but Rylance made a cracking attempt at it here.

    On the plus side, given how many people left half way through, we did get excellent seats after the interval. And I thought the friar was pretty good.

  2. Completely agree with all the above comments and original review. So disappointed after travelling a long way to see -i must say -vanessa redgrave.

    Ok. So i did see her live finally. But was a rubbish piece of theatre on all levels.

    Having recently seen othello at the national i felt there was no comparison. I couldnt understand james earl ray. He mumbled and stumbled through his lines.

    As said above. At 75 pounds a seat you expect better.

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