There are many reasons for choosing a particular play to direct. Barrie Rutter, artistic director of Northern Broadsides, is deep in rehearsals of Much Ado about Nothing because, of course, he likes it. But also, as it happens, he has a married couple in the company who are just made to play Beatrice and Benedick, the reluctant lovers who battle wittily with language instead of admitting that they have fallen for each other. Deborah McAndrew and Conrad Nelson are the pair.
Benedick returns victorious from the wars and takes up the verbal sparring with Beatrice where they left off. The prince, meanwhile, says Rutter,"brokers the marriage between Hero (Beatrice's cousin) and Claudio and has the idea for a trick to bring Beatrice and Benedick together." The prince's wicked brother, Don John, blackens Hero's name and causes the wedding to be cancelled. Claudio believes the slander, Hero feigns death and Beatrice demands that Benedick kill Claudio. All is eventually resolved with the aid of incompetent proto-police in the shape of the Watch, led by malapropising Dogberry.
Rutter acknowledges that the play does have its dark side, but argues that modern productions put too much emphasis on it. "Delight is an educational tool. We musn't miss it in going for the black wrapping. It's a 400 year-old play, very verbal - modern psychological journeys are not this loquacious. Besides no bugger speaks in rhyming couplets."
Attempts to draw modern parallels are unnecessary since the play is about "the stuff of humn passion". It makes sense, says Rutter "within the poetry, not in spite of it in the modern, rational world. You must go with the fairy tale."
There is much humour in the plot, but Don John is simply wicked. "There's no motivation; he is a plain-dealing villain, a Iago prototype. Except that Claudio's success in war has superseded what Don John expected for himself." Even here Rutter finds comedy, in his frustrated villainy until he finds an outlet for it. Despite her suffering, Rutter sees Hero as "spirited"; she's not to be written off as a victim. The "Kill Claudio" line, usually regarded as very difficult for the essentially benign Beatrice to pronounce convincingly, is not, he says, posing difficulties so far. It follows closely on the declaration of love and is "wonderfully dramatic", its placing is no accident in that it allows the mixing of "tears of joy and tears of unhappiness". The line shouldn't be signalled with a pause "sending a telegram that it's coming. It should be like a portcullis coming down, a shock."
The badinage between the central couple is not, Rutter says, protection against the expression of feared, uncontrolled emotion. "Beatrice is a confirmed spinster because she loves the crack." Until persuaded of Benedick's love, when she suddenly discovers her own feelings for him, Beatrice has quite simply been enjoying the fun of her situation. Rutter and his actors relish the opport-unities the parts afford. He compares Antony and Cleopatra, a more heavyweight pairing, "They only meet twice and then they're dying."
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