Much Ado About Nothing (1992): Oxford Stage Company
PrMuch Ado About Nothing (1992)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Femi Elufowoju Jnr (Dogberry); Richard Evans (Leonato); Tony Forsyth (Claudio); Marie Francis (Beatrice); Trevor H Laird (Don Pedro); Diane Parish (Hero); Richard Santhiri (Don John); James Simmons (Benedick).
The first performance of this production took place on 15 July 1992 at the Sheffield Lyceum Theatre. It subsequently toured the UK through October, playing in Farnham, Cambridge, Oxford, Arundel, Bury St Edmunds, Stirling, Crawley, Coventry, Harlow and Taunton. It ran from 2 - 6 November at the Petaling Jaya Civic Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and from 9 - 14 November at the Tokyo Globe Theatre, Japan.
The programme credits include a thank you to Femi Elufowoju Jnr for the West African Yuruba chant as well as to Marian Lupascu of the Romanian Institute of Folklore.
"Darie courageously transposes Shakespeare's courtiers from an Elizabethan view of Renaissance Italy to a more generalised society, where the frivolity of courtship rituals is intensified by the instability of civil strife. But it's not just an allusion to the current upheavals in eastern Europe. Darie and his designer, Maria Miu, pack their highly visual style of theatre with magpie eclecticism. I spotted references to Kabuki, Yoruba, Venetian carnival and Romanian folklore. The setting of chunky timber and flimsy drapes gives the performers a larger-than-life, mythic scale and, at the same time, somehow cuts them down to size as parochial warlords rather than high aristocracy. His sensual use of ritual dance chimes well with the play's recurrent ceremonies and its well-drilled precision makes stunning spectacle. But the fun is not staged at the expense of the witty wordplay between the reluctant lovers, Beatrice and Benedick; their flippant cynicism combines with an overall sense of mischief. This central relationship is dazzlingly brought to life by a darkly dangerous James Simmons and a disturbingly volatile Marie Francis. An exhilarating evening - images like Hero's disappearing into her wedding dress in a swoon, when she's rejected at the altar, will stay with you forever." ~ Robin Thornber, The Guardian, 18 July 1992
"A production of Much Ado About Nothing is not the first place you would expect to find a Yoruba war-chant, but the Romanian director Alexandru Darie's account of the play for the Oxford Stage Company is nothing if not multicultural. For reasons that find pretty limited support in Shakespeare's text, Darie has become persuaded of the notion 'that this play is about people in a collapsed Babel tower' and that the courtship-comedy of mistakings and misprisons unfolds not in the secure aftermath of war, but in a brief gap between hostilities. It's true that Messina, the town to which the demobbed, victorious soldiers return at the start of the play, is stirred out of its set ways by the presence of these alluring strangers and that the principal males hail from such diverse places as Aragon, Padua and Florence. But it's a big step from this to the bewildering ethnic and cultural hodge-podge of Darie's production where if, to the strains of a sitar, an eskimo had suddenly wandered on shaking a shillelagh, it would not have seemed unduly eccentric. Pluralists to a fault, the characters here have a bizarrely eclectic approach to rituals. At the abortive wedding of Claudio and Hero, for example, the clothes and customs have a Japanese feel, though it seems to be the witch-doctor practices that revive and exorcise the fainted, slandered bride. All this creates some vivid stage pictures...what it doesn't create is a credible society. The fact that the verbal wit of the skirmishes between Beatrice and Benedick bespeaks a courtly, cultivated milieu has not deterred designer Maria Miu from giving the setting a nomadic, tribal aspect. The primitive timber frame suggests a people prepared to shift, at short notice, away from danger." ~ Paul Taylor, "Nothing left in the melting pot", Independent, 8 August 1992