Set play

16th June 2000 at 01:00
Much Ado About Nothing Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London When Shakespeare wrote Much Ado About Nothing it must have seemed radical in its bold mix of two genres; bright comedy, and high tragedy.

Director Rachel Kavanaugh calls it a "very experimental piece of work, an amazing foretaste of his later plays; he introduces an element of evil into a comedy."

In the play, Shakespeare weaves two stories, one about Benedick and Beatrice, and the other about Beatrice's cousin Hero and her suitor Claudio.

In the first, the two protest that they don't love each other and have to be tricked into falling in love; in the second, Claudio is deceived into thinking that Hero has been unfaithful and rejects her during their wedding ceremony.

When Hero faints, Claudio believes she's dead, and Beatrice demands that Benedick prove his love by challenging Claudio to a duel. But in the end, says Kavanaugh, "it's the comic characters, like the watch, that save the serious ones."

Her version is set in England at the end of the Second World War because "it is of paramount importance that the men in the play are soldiers, and have an extraordinary codified and sacred bond between them".

The play is about what happens when "a domestic world, governed by old men and women, collides with a potent group of warrior men, who invade thatworld". This clash makes more sense when set "at the end of a war we all recognise".

Also, in the late 1940s, the "the idea of a girl's reputation seems to resonate in that period". And the "sexual politics of the play are clarified" when women such as Beatrice are able to wear trousers - as they did at the time.

An English, rather than Sicilian, setting also makes more sense of characters such as Dogberry the constable and the watch "who are just like Dad's Army".

Kavanaugh says that she's cut the play "in order to avoid repetition and some of the more cumbersome jokes about cuckolds".

Both Beatrice and Benedick "use words as a cover - there are two languages in the play: the witty and the truthful". And much of the fun is seeing them switch between the two.

Both "insist so much that they don't want to get married that marriage is obviously on their minds".

When Beatrice demands that Benedick kill Claudio, "I think she does mean it and he does take it seriously - but there are also many parallels between words and weapons in the play, which is full of verbal skirmishing."

It's only when the lovers finally stop speaking that "they can get together and express their love for each other".

Aleks Sierz In rep to September 7. Tickets: 020 7486 2431. Talking to Shakes-peare:

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today