Sunny beer gardens beckon and swish rooftop terraces call to tempt you as the working day ends. But stage one of the English bard’s finest and funniest plays on a hot, balmy evening on the south bank of the Thames in a full-scale rebuild of his four-hundred-year-old Globe theatre. Add a cool, breezy open roof with a clear view of the central London summer sky as the warming sun slowly sets. Mix in some sizzling South American spice in the form of a re-setting of the play amidst the fiery Mexican Revolution and you’ve got yourself a totally different experience from anything you may have been expecting and an absolute must-do in London this summer.
Much Ado About Nothing is a classic tale of love, romance, misunderstanding and deceit told in a riotous mix of madcap humour and sniping wit. The story, in this production by Matthew Dunster, is transplanted from Shakespeare’s original location in Sicily to the bloody Mexican Revolution of the early 1900s when soldiers were returning home from a long and violent armed struggle to their wives, girlfriends and prospective suitors. If you’ve not seen it before, or watched the 1993 film with Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington, then I won’t spoil it for you by giving away the plot. And, to be honest, the story itself is not actually the most important thing here — Shakespeare can be a little difficult to follow at times unless you’re fluent in Ye Olde English, anyway — what makes this sparkle is the sheer drama and spectacle of the setting and the lovable performances from the actors.
Right from the outset, there’s a festival atmosphere in the air. Cannons and gun-shots ring out. Smoke drifts across the stage and into the stalls, both from the weaponry and from the cheroots hanging from the drawling mouths of drunken Mexicans. This isn’t a play to be politely watched and observed like some high-brow university lecture in English literature. This is a party…and a good one! You feel you’re taking part with the actors in a blaze of bright colour, bursting with sound and emotion. Characters come down from the stage and weave, shouting and waving their guns through the audience as they turn their heads round to watch, beers in hand. No stuck-up, elitist affair this. This is vibrant and alive, a celebration.
The theatre itself is part of the pleasure of this experience. It can’t feel very much different today to how it felt to be sitting in the original Globe of the 1600s, throwing rotten fruit at the cast from the cheap seats. The round, open roof really makes the evening buzz — jet airplanes flying above as costumed thespians recite words written half a millennium ago lend an incongruous touch that, somehow, makes you feel very lucky indeed to be in England, in the summertime.
Gather up some friends or take a date. Much Ado About Nothing runs until October 15th but, to enjoy it as it truly should be enjoyed, go in July or August and get a sense of the South American sun in Southwark! Check the Globe’s website as some of the performances feature talks by the actors before or afterwards about the political background to the play and the history of this iconic theatre. If you think Shakespeare is stuffy, you’re in for a treat…a spicy one!
Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT.
Telephone: 0207 902 1400
Nearest tube: Blackfriars