048 – Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare

048 – Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare

Lucy Phelps as Beatrice and Ralph David as Benedick
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre 2022
Photo: Manuel Harlan

 

048 – Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare

The curtain rises on the house of Leonato, governor of the city of Messina in Sicily. A messenger has arrived with the news that war has ended and that the local soldiers will be returning safely home. Celebrations will follow and the men and women will turn their thoughts from war to romance. Among them the young officer Claudio, who has set his heart on Leonato’s daughter Hero. But there are two among the courtly suitors who do not subscribe to the conventions of romance. Hero’s cousin, Beatrice, and Claudio’s comrade-in-arms, Benedick, are conjoined by their shared determination to avoid the yolk of marriage and by their mutual antipathy. However both of these couples will find that the course of love does not run predictably in Shakespeare’s mature romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing.

The play is one of Shakespeare’s most popular, primarily for the “merry war” of wits between Beatrice and Benedick, whose fiery sparring and ultimate reconciliation are the prototype for centuries of rom com. But alongside their brilliant comic partnership, there is also a darker story, of misogyny and betrayal, that gives the play a more complex and challenging character.

I am joined today to review this romantic rollercoaster by Lucy Bailey, the director of the joyous production that is currently running at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.

Lucy Bailey

Lucy Bailey’s wide ranging work as a director comprises many acclaimed productions, including a number of Shakespeare plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Globe, and the Theatre Royal Bath, the latter with a production of King Lear starring David Haig. She is responsible for the joyous production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe in the summer of 2022, which set the play in northern Italy in the last days of World War II. Her renditions of Titus Andronicus and Macbeth at the Globe were both notorious and memorable for their powerful graphic imagery.

Among her other credits, Lucy has also directed touring productions of Gaslight, The Graduate, Dial ‘M’ for Murder, and The Importance of Being Earnest. On a different note, Lucy has a particular affinity for Agatha Christie. She has directed Love from a Stranger, and enjoyed both critical acclaim and huge popular success with her production of Witness for the Prosecution, which in a masterstroke she staged in the grand chamber of County Hall in London, a fitting setting for the classic courtroom drama.

As testimony to her versatility, in 2020 she directed David Mamet’s contentious play Oleanna at the Theatre Royal Bath, which was the subject of our conversation together in episode 16 of the podcast. Listen here.

The Texts

If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them from our selected partners Bookshop.org and Blackwell’s. Not only will you be supporting independent booksellers, we will also earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. Click on the cover to buy from our chosen partner. Thank you.

Photo © Marc Brenner
We have footnotes for this episode …

The Footnotes to our episode on Much Ado About Nothing include more on the meaning of the title, the rhetoric in play in the verbal tennis of the dialogue, and the changing perception of Beatrice through the ages.

You might also be interested in …
048 – Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare

048 – Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing is rightly renowned for the “merry war” of wits between the reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick, but alongside their brilliant partnership, there is also a darker story of misogyny and betrayal that gives the play a more complex and challenging character. Lucy Bailey, director of the joyous production currently running at the Globe Theatre in London joins me to review this romantic rollercoaster.

047 – Middle, by David Eldridge

047 – Middle, by David Eldridge

David Eldridge’s new play Middle, now playing at the National Theatre, follows on from his 2017 play Beginning. It is the second in what will be a “triptych for the theatre”, capturing epochal moments in couples’ relationships. I’m delighted to welcome David back to talk about the important dramatic trilogy he is building.

046 – All My Sons, by Arthur Miller

046 – All My Sons, by Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller’s breakthrough play All My Sons is both a searing family tragedy and an exploration of the moral challenges that Miller believed were inherent in the American Dream. Douglas Rintoul has recently directed a wonderful production of this devastating play at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch.

Lucy Bailey

Lucy Bailey

Lucy Bailey

Lucy Bailey’s wide ranging work as a director comprises many acclaimed productions, including a number of Shakespeare plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Globe, and the Theatre Royal Bath, the latter with a production of King Lear starring David Haig. She is responsible for the joyous production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe in the summer of 2022, which set the play in northern Italy in the last days of World War II. Her renditions of Titus Andronicus and Macbeth at the Globe were both notorious and memorable for their powerful graphic imagery.

Among her other credits, Lucy has also directed touring productions of Gaslight, The Graduate, Dial ‘M’ for Murder, and The Importance of Being Earnest. On a different note, Lucy has a particular affinity for Agatha Christie. She has directed Love from a Stranger, and enjoyed both critical acclaim and huge popular success with her production of Witness for the Prosecution, which in a masterstroke she staged in the grand chamber of County Hall in London, a fitting setting for the classic courtroom drama.

As testimony to her versatility, in 2020 she directed David Mamet’s contentious play Oleanna at the Theatre Royal Bath. 

Recommended Play(s)

Lucy recommended Closer by Patrick Marber.

 

 

 

016 – Oleanna, by David Mamet

016 – Oleanna, by David Mamet

016 – Oleanna, by David Mamet

David Mamet’s explosive play Oleanna which shows how a seemingly benign conversation between a university professor and his female student can go so badly wrong caused intense controversy and divided audiences when it was first produced in 1992. The heated debate provoked by the play pitted naysayers of political correctness against those tired of the complacent abuses of patriarchal power. It is now being revived at the Theatre Royal Bath in a new production directed by Lucy Bailey. How will we see the sensitive issues it raises differently nearly 30 years on and in the light of the #MeToo movement? I’m delighted that Lucy Bailey joins us just as she finishes rehearsals to explore the nuances of the debate and reassess the relevance of the play’s messages.

David Mamet is the author of a number of acclaimed plays, including American Buffalo, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, Speed the Plow and Glengarry Glen Ross. Oleanna opened in the US in 1992 in Cambridge, Massachusetts before an Off-Broadway run that year, followed by its UK premier at the Royal Court Theatre in 1993 in a production directed by none other than Harold Pinter, and starring David Suchet and Lia Williams. Mamet’s work certainly owes something to Pinter, with its spare, weaponised language and macho menace. Pinter said of Oleanna that “there can be no tougher or unflinching play”. Mamet also wrote and directed a film version of the play in 1994, with William H Macy and Debra Eisenstadt.

Note: This episode contains strong language.

Lucy Bailey

Lucy Bailey’s wide ranging work as a director comprises many acclaimed productions, including a number of Shakespeare plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Globe, and the Theatre Royal Bath, the latter with a production of King Lear starring David Haig. Her renditions of Titus Andronicus and Macbeth at the Globe were both notorious and memorable for their powerful graphic imagery.  Among her other credits, Lucy has also directed touring productions of Gaslight, The Graduate, Dial ‘M’ for Murder, and The Importance of Being Earnest.

On a different note, Lucy has a particular affinity for Agatha Christie. She has directed Love from a Stranger, and enjoyed both critical acclaim and huge popular success with her production of Witness for the Prosecution, which in a masterstroke she staged in the grand chamber of County Hall in London, a fitting setting for the classic courtroom drama.

And now, as if to emphasise her characteristic nerve and versatility she takes on the potentially contentious politics of Oleanna at the Theatre Royal Bath.

Recommended Play

Lucy recommended Closer by Patrick Marber

The Texts

If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. Through our selected partners Bookshop.org and Blackwell’s you will also be supporting independent bookshops. Thank you.

Photo © Marc Brenner
We have footnotes for this episode …

The Footnotes to our episode on Oleanna include a clue to the arcane title of the play, a reminder of one of the real-life sources of the play’s gender politics, and how the theatre may reflect our national sub-conscious.

You might also be interested in …
048 – Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare

048 – Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing is rightly renowned for the “merry war” of wits between the reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick, but alongside their brilliant partnership, there is also a darker story of misogyny and betrayal that gives the play a more complex and challenging character. Lucy Bailey, director of the joyous production currently running at the Globe Theatre in London joins me to review this romantic rollercoaster.

047 – Middle, by David Eldridge

047 – Middle, by David Eldridge

David Eldridge’s new play Middle, now playing at the National Theatre, follows on from his 2017 play Beginning. It is the second in what will be a “triptych for the theatre”, capturing epochal moments in couples’ relationships. I’m delighted to welcome David back to talk about the important dramatic trilogy he is building.

046 – All My Sons, by Arthur Miller

046 – All My Sons, by Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller’s breakthrough play All My Sons is both a searing family tragedy and an exploration of the moral challenges that Miller believed were inherent in the American Dream. Douglas Rintoul has recently directed a wonderful production of this devastating play at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch.