Under Mark Rylance's watchful and immensely talented eye, The Old Vic has developed a wonderfully bright, witty production of Much Ado About Nothing, full of energy and laughs.
This Shakespearian comedy is the story of two love affairs. Hero and Claudio are the two sweet and sincere young lovers, whereas Benedick and Beatrice are the sparring older cynics, forever antagonising each other whilst proclaiming their disdain for love.
Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones play Benedick and Beatrice, and these legends give fantastic performances as the bickering older pair. They are both far older than actors usually cast in these roles but it was an inspired decision. The playfulness and mischief they bring adds so much to the comedy in the production. And both of them have such wonderful tones to their voices as well as acting talent that you really could just listen to both of them spouting Shakespeare all day.
The bravery isn't just in the casting either.
The interpretation of Shakespeare for modern audiences is always fraught with risk. The desire to contemporise the setting can sometimes backfire but in this case, absolutely not. Rather than officers in a returning victorious Spanish army, Benedick and Hero are American GIs, stopping off in England with the rest of their army at the end of World War II before they head home.
Absolutely nothing is lost in this adaptation and much is gained. The rub between the American officers and the inhabitants of the English village works beautifully. There's a lot of comedy to be got out of that set-up. And though these two cultures clash, there is much common ground between America and Britain, making the happy-ending all the more heart-warming (if a little out of step with the current political climate!).
The whole cast is excellent with first-class performances from every member of the cast but you cannot help but note the hands of an immensely talented director all over this production. Mark Rylance really is annoying. Not only is he quite probably the best actor working today but his direction of this play is just superb. His stage set is a simple square arch but from this he fashions such a web in which his cast can play.
And all the while, the large cast imbues the production with all the commotion and bustle the title suggests. Whether they're sweeping the stage or moving large pieces of furniture around for no apparent reason, there's always activity. There's always something happening. This production is just humming with energy.
This wonderful production has so much innovation, spirit and humour that I loved every minute. I can't recommend it enough.
The Old Vic Theatre, London
Until November 30, 2013