Magazine article The Spectator

Love All

Magazine article The Spectator

Love All

Article excerpt

Much Ado About Nothing; King John Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon Measure for Measure Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Michael Boyd's Complete Works festival may not have over-garlanded Stratford with bunting and flags, but it's made the town a much more buzzy place.

Boyd is not only bringing back some of the best Shakespeareans of the older generation -- including Patrick Stewart as Antony and Prospero, and Ian McKellen as Lear -- but also nurturing a wonderfully talented younger generation. Tamsin Greig and Joseph Millson light up the stage as Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado, both starring also in King John alongside Richard McCabe's arresting performance in the title role.

For Much Ado, director Marianne Elliott goes to the pre-Castro Cuba of the 1950s, opening the way for a feast of salsa music, song and dance. But the best music of the evening is simply that of the sparring of Beatrice and Benedick. Millson's Benedick, with his short hair and neat moustache, is every inch the bachelor cynic of the officers' mess. Beatrice's mocking admonishments are a new and unexpected challenge. With her aquiline profile, figure-hugging skirts and straight seams, Greig's barbs are so hilarious you scarcely realise how deep they have thrust. The scenes in which each of them eavesdrops on how the other is totally infatuated allow the comic genius of each actor full rein -- Millson, ill concealed in a potted palm, springing up with a manic exuberance that Basil Fawlty could scarcely have matched, Greig setting off hooter and lights of the scooter behind which she's dementedly sought to hide.

When the darkening of the play at Hero's abortive wedding precipitates Beatrice's and Benedick's declaration of their love, Greig and Millson open up a whole new layer in their relationship without abandoning anything of its playful antagonism. At a stroke, Greig and Millson have lifted the RSC's playing of the comedies on to a higher level.

Josie Rourke's production of King John at last does justice to this too often underrated work. Shakespeare's dissection of a terminally insecure monarch makes a refreshing change from the other histories (Richard II excepted) in which the bloody will to power is uppermost. In the RSC's previous staging, the role was played by Guy Henry as the petulant king of a nursery castle. Richard McCabe now sets this right by creating a vividly complex character, well conscious of his powers.

Bored by courtly advice, McCabe's John is quickly charmed and won over by Millson's roguish audacity and energy as the Bastard Faulconbridge. …

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