On a bright, increasing warm afternoon, I attended a matinée showing of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Pop Up Globe. The crowd was in a good humour and the performances were cheeky and energetic.
It’s been ages since I’ve seen a play, for real, in the flesh and I picked a good un. Despite it’s antipodean location, and for all of its corrugated iron, scaffolding, and temporary floor for the groundlings, the Pop Up Globe achieved something akin to what a rowdy Elizabethan crowd would have experienced. Maybe. At least I like to think so. There were spitakes, audience participation, knowing asides, ad-libbing, and the entire theatre was included as the performance space. Even if the quarters allotted (for the plebs) were smaller than an economy airliner to sit comfortably, it helped to create a ‘all in this together’ kind of a camaraderie.
Any physical discomfort, and even having to ‘see through’ the scaffolding, was forgotten as we all became wound up in the plight of Hero and her judgmental suitor, and Beatrice and her ‘Bernard’ (as I heard one audience member call him after the performance), despite all of Shakespeare’s (Benedick) jokes.
Messina as an island located somewhere between the US and New Zealand was interesting. The Haka marriage ceremony was cool and the costumes that played on Pacific themes. And the Maori vibe suited the soldiers.
It struck me that the Prince is the type of character who is usually the star of the show, given his seniority an organisational skills. Yet, as a comedy, this play is all about what the rest of the characters get up to when there is merely a minor tragedy, soon resolved, going on.
This Benedick plays up to the audience, and he is a buffoon, but you know it is love when he accepts Beatrice’s command to take action on behalf of Hero. He is capable of being serious. And for Beatrice’s part, her frustration at the social mores that mean she can’t take direct revenge is palpable, and deeply felt, at least by me.
Then again, this play feels current, not just because of the supportive same-sex marriage mentions via Dogberry and Verges, although they got all the cheers. It just feels like all roads head to Rome in stories at the moment, in that this narrative dwells on the reputational damage women suffer at the machinations of men, and especially how that the testimony of a woman is worth less than a man. Even her father Leonato disavows Beatrice, but that’s a patriarch for you. And that’s the thing with this amid all the banter about marriage and men, it takes a team and a miraculous ‘death’ and resurrection to restore Hero’s honour. Yep, women literally have to be martyrs and goddesses to successfully defend themselves. It might be hilarious if this wasn’t still a thing 400 years later.
If Don John’s mustache twirling villain and his willing lackeys don’t immediately stand out as recalling certain current Hollywood industry members in the limelight for their behaviour, then perhaps you have missed the incessant news about this. And while I was previously familiar with this play, right now, these themes are as loud and showy as the surprise fireworks.
If you go, take a hat, sunglasses, a rain coat (because this is Melbourne), water (although there are food vans), and be ready for a good time.