Much Ado and All’s Well at the Lir

Two Shakespeare plays will shortly be performed at the Lir, the National Academy of Dramatic Art:

Much Ado About Nothing

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CLAUDIO LOVES HERO. BEATRICE HATES BENEDICK. LEONATA LOVES BOOZE. AND NOBODY LOVES DON JOHN.

On the terrace of a Mediterranean holiday home, a group of friends assemble for a week-long party full of playful debauchery, pop music, and questionable gender politics. Shakespeare’s infamous comedy of disguised affection and misguided love, plots the chart of two courtships. A festive play about deception and excess given a vivid contemporary staging, Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy of sparkling wit and linguistic exuberance that playfully undermines the seriousness of romance.

Wednesday 24th May – Tuesday 30th May 2017, 7.45pm

Matinee: Thursday 25th May, 1.00pm

Tickets: €15 and €10 concession

All’s Well That Ends Well

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UNREQUITED LOVE, DISGUISES AND MISUNDERSTANDINGS AND LOTS OF COMEDY ALONG THE WAY.

All’s Well That Ends Well, perhaps Shakespeare’s least-known play, has for much of its history been considered “problematic”. Sitting somewhere between comedy and romance, it tells the story of the irrepressible Helena, the young daughter of a famous doctor. She is determined to win her chosen husband, despite the obstacles that life, status and even the young man himself, put in her path. This is a surprising, steadfast tale of the adventure of love, of growing up and growing old, and of coming home again.

Performances: Wednesday 24th May – Tuesday 30th May 2017, 7.45pm

Matinee: Thursday 25th May, 1.00pm

Tickets: €15 and €10 concession

 

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Report: ‘Shakespeare Lives Through Sir Kenneth Branagh on Stage and Screen’ – exhibition and Q&A

Guest post by Cynthia Martin.

As part of the Shakespeare 400 celebrations in Belfast, the Queen’s Film Theatre is honouring Sir Kenneth Branagh’s work with an exhibition which chronicles his prolific career as both Shakespearean actor and director.  The display features an array of movie stills, photographs, movie posters, promotional postcards, and theatre programmes from Branagh’s early beginnings to today (complements of the Branagh Collection, located in the Special Collections & Archives of Queen’s University Belfast). An eclectic collage of rare artefacts, this exhibition will tour the island, as Ireland celebrates Branagh’s contribution to Shakespeare appreciation.

The exhibition begins with a large triptych, designed to detail Branagh’s very distinctive and rich work in Shakespeare adaptation throughout the past three decades. Informative yet concise, this poster presents visitors with an organised contextualization of the coming attractions for optimal experience and engagement.

Branagh Hamlet

Branagh’s Hamlet (1996)

The production stills of Branagh’s Hamlet and Henry V (as well as a black-and-white offstage photograph from the set of Much Ado About Nothing) especially capture the careful thought and conscientiousness behind every scene Branagh has directed. As film is a medium which perpetually moves forward, a production still offers a visual pause to the viewer, affording her/him the opportunity to reflect on all the intricate details of a split second in the performance. The still of Branagh as he is about to begin Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy especially conjures the dichotomous emotional conflict between meditative deliberation and fierce urgency.

Also included in this exhibition are theatre programmes from Branagh’s earlier career with the Royal Shakespeare Company (Henry V by the RSC at Barbican Theatre in 1984 and Hamlet by the RSC at Stratford in 1993). A framed theatre poster from Branagh’s performance as Richard III in 2002 additionally joins the wall amongst production stills and film posters. Aiming to focus also on Branagh’s theatre legacy, these artefacts inspire viewers to contemplate the media translation of Shakespeare from page to stage to screen, and to admire Branagh’s seemingly effortless flexibility between film and theatre productions.

Branagh Much Ado

Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

However, it is perhaps his presence on Time’s front page in 1989 which best demonstrates the extent to which Branagh has contributed to the integration of Shakespeare into modern cinematic culture. Often praised for the accessibility of his Shakespeare productions to audiences, Branagh juggles both high and pop art cultures with impressive dexterity. As Branagh was nominated for two Oscars for his Henry V (Best Actor and Best Director), this magazine cover brings the viewer back to the time when this Belfastite first achieved global stardom.

The launch of the Branagh exhibition on the 7th of May of this year in conjunction with the Irish Renaissance Seminar held at Queen’s University, Belfast, included a lovely reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres. A gracious introduction by Professor Mark Thornton Burnett of Queen’s University, Belfast truly highlighted Branagh’s phenomenal contribution to Shakespeare film, theatre, and adaptation studies. I would recommend this exhibition to anyone with a deep interest in Sir Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations, and am pleased to inform fans that these artefacts will be accessible to various regions across Ireland this year.

In conjunction with this exhibition, the QFT also arranged a Q&A session with Sir Kenneth Branagh himself for the 27th of May. Led by Adrian Wooton, CEO of Film London and the British Film Commission, this event served as a special introduction to a showing of Branagh’s 1989 Henry V, an introduction which was also transmitted live to over 70 cinemas across the UK.

Wooton mainly covered Branagh’s impressive and action-packed career, from Henry V (1989), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Hamlet (1996), Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000), and As You Like It (2006), to very recent, non-Shakespearean work, such as Thor (2011) and Cinderella (2015). Given that Branagh had mentioned that his interest in Shakespeare began with a passion for his native Irish language, it was a shame that Wooton did not include Branagh’s The Magical Flute (2006) in this discussion, as the obvious connections amongst poetic language, Shakespeare, and music would have naturally led to an engaging dialogue on the profound, yet simple magic of sound.

Branagh As-you-like-it - finale

Branagh’s As You Like It (2006) – finale scene

Although Wooton’s questions themselves were quite predictable and unoriginal (indeed, one got the sense that Branagh had answered these same questions a million times before), one could not object to the sheer delight of simply being in Branagh’s charming and enchanting presence. Moreover, a pre-selected batch of Twitter questions from fans definitely added a more personal and unique element to the discussion. One Twitter user who had a particularly keen sense of humour asked if, from a director’s perspective, Branagh found himself difficult to direct, to which the audience and Branagh responded with authentic, unbridled chuckles. Overall, Branagh’s personal introduction to his Henry V, the film which catapulted his career as Shakespearean actor and director in his home-town, contributed the perfect piece to the Shakespeare 400 celebrations.

Guest post: Cynthia May Martin is a PhD student in English Literature at Queen’s University, Belfast.

 

The “Shakespeare Lives Through Sir Kenneth Branagh on Stage and Screen” exhibition will tour to the following venues and more locations will be announced in due course:

Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast: 26 April-31 May

  • Irish Film Institute, Dublin: 02-30 June
  • LexIcon Dun Laoghaire: 1 July – 13 August
  • NUI Galway: 15-26 August
  • Linen Hall Library, Belfast: 03-15 October
  • NUI Maynooth: 17-25 October
  • Royal Irish Academy, Dublin: 26 October-02 December

For further details, see the British Council webpage on “Shakespeare Lives Through Sir Kenneth Branagh”.

Several of Branagh’s Shakespeare films will be screened at the IFI, Dublin, this June – see the “Shakespeare Lives on Film” tour.

For information on the British Council’s “Shakespeare Lives Across the Island of Ireland: Conversations and Celebrations” programme see the British Council – Ireland ‘Shakespeare Lives’ webpage.

 

 

Review: Much Ado About Nothing at Kilkenny Arts Festival (Shakespeare’s Globe on tour)

Review by Deirdre Gallagher

To discover that the thing one has been most set against is actually the very thing one most desires is a dizzying shift of perspective which would challenge the most even-tempered. Admitting the revelation publicly is a feat requiring more than pluck. In this exuberant enactment of Shakespeare’s comedy of warring lovers, performed by the Shakespeare’s Globe on tour troupe using a booth stage in the outdoor space of Kilkenny’s Castle Yard, Simon Bubb’s Benedick and Emma Pallant’s Beatrice rise to the challenge and save face by means of their indomitable energy, wit and moral stature, as portrayed in this superb production.

For all the bantering humour and pleasing symmetries of the early scenes, and in spite of the happy outcome for all (except Don John), this is not, in fact, much ado about nothing. The marriages in Messina are a small, specific sample of something far more serious than the glib title asserts, and the Globe on tour production reflects this. The cheery tricks played on Benedick and Beatrice in the early scenes are presented with gusto as light-hearted counterfeits, revels created by friends purely for sport. The cast render them as so much innocent, harmless fun, and the audience willingly connives. The busy stage is full of movement and song, while hyperbolic gestures, grimaces, direct eye contact with the audience and high-pitched tones enhance the sense of rollicking good humour; all is merriment. Ours was a delighted audience, out to enjoy what seemed to be, above all, an entertainment. Yet there was more at play here, despite the smiling and joking.

The feigned conversations overheard by Beatrice and Benedick make ingenious use of props and the playing space itself. Benedick lolls comically behind a chair, moving it around the stage unseen by the tricksters as he listens, rapt, while they marvel at Beatrice’s fabricated declaration of love. He eventually upturns a cart of oranges in his shock, which spill out over the front of the stage: the calm certainty of the confirmed bachelor has been disturbed forever. ‘Is it possible?’ he repeats, but he has already swallowed the bait whole. For Beatrice’s parallel moment of false truth, she sits on the ground at the foot of the stage,  listening wide-eyed and open-mouthed, just steps from the front row; a line of washing separates her from the speakers, and as the clothes are hung water splashes about liberally, until finally the tub is emptied over her head and she is rendered briefly speechless. The gullibility of both characters is as striking as it is diverting, and yet the audience cannot but feel some unease.

After the interval, the mood deepens, becoming sober and restrained – and as daylight dims in the Castle Yard, the atmosphere darkens, the pretty wedding lights looking brave and delicate in the glooming. When Hero is grievously slandered, the language of lies and deceit suddenly resonates with a new foreboding. For while Beatrice can give as good as she gets (and more), Hero is helplessly abased: an object of scorn and shame, publicly humiliated and rejected. The language of lies is now laid bare as the insidious language of abused power, and a sense of injustice dominates. When Hero faints, the powerful men who believe the lies against her simply leave the stage, and the gravity and pathos of the scene puts the earlier clowning into uncomfortable perspective. Beatrice and Benedick’s compassion for Hero is portrayed convincingly, amplifying our sense of their moral strength. When Beatrice demands that Benedick kill Claudio in revenge there was a shout of laughter from the audience – a quick outburst which relieved the tension momentarily, reassuring viewers that this was, after all, a comedy.  But her next words hushed the audience at once; her passionate repeated wish, ‘O, that I were a man!’ made clear the power imbalance underpinning Hero’s ill-treatment.

The interplay between audience and cast throughout the production was a principal reason for its success. The ebullience of the audience was seized on and carried by the actors, who worked as if an organic whole, skilfully judging the mood and receptivity of the spectators, occasionally sidling up to those in the front row and even dancing briefly with one. Spontaneity, acute comic timing and a sense of impromptu interaction with the audience all made for a riveting theatrical experience. The actors, who are also accomplished musicians and singers, delivered their speeches, songs and music with seemingly equal ease, emitting jollity and merriment above all.

At the end of the play, Benedick, the married man, celebrates his new state wholeheartedly, even if he has had to go to ridiculous lengths to prove the rationale behind his volte-face – and this a man who is initially hurt when Beatrice refers to him as ‘the Prince’s jester’. He has proved his own assertion that ‘Man is a giddy creature’. Beatrice likewise embraces her transformation: ‘Farewell contempt and scorn, maiden pride adieu’. One may as well make the best of things, despite what went before. Ultimately, the subjective nature of human experience and human adaptability are amply expressed in this good-humoured, spirited, and beautifully choreographed production. The unsettling issues of  power and powerlessness, and the value of lies and deceit for good or ill do not evaporate completely but rather fade from view as the drama reaches its joyful resolution: ‘Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, Men were deceivers ever.’

— Deirdre Gallagher

Theatre: Globe’s Much Ado About Nothing, Kilkenny Arts Festival, 8-17 August

From the Kilkenny Arts Festival website, where you can get more information and book:

Over the last two years, a production by Shakespeare’s Globe (UK) has become one of the must-see highlights of the festival programme. Performing on a recreated Elizabethan ‘Booth Stage’, the company has brought two acclaimed productions to Kilkenny and transformed the Castle Yard into the finest venue in the country for open-air theatre. This year we’re delighted to welcome them back with a production of one of Shakespeare’s liveliest comedies, Much Ado About Nothing.

Claudio loves Hero and Hero Claudio, and nothing seems capable of keeping them apart. Claudio’s friend Benedick loves Beatrice and Beatrice loves him back, but because neither will admit it nothing seems capable of bringing them together. Only the intrigues of a resentful prince force Benedick to prove his love for Beatrice – by killing his best friend.

Driven along by a pair of lovers in denial, Much Ado About Nothing is a masterpiece of comic and dramatic suspense and gives us, in the bantering Beatrice and Benedick, literature’s wittiest bickering couple.

Please note: this is an outdoor performance. Please dress for the weather.

WHEN

Friday 8 Aug 7.30pm
Saturday 9 Aug 7.30pm
Sunday 10 Aug 7.30pm
Monday 11 Aug 7.30pm
Tuesday 12 Aug 7.30pm
Thursday 14 Aug 7.30pm
Friday 15 Aug 7.30pm
Saturday 16 Aug 7.30pm
Sunday 17 Aug 2pm, 7.30pm

WHERE

Castle Yard at Kilkenny Design

DURATION

2 hrs 30 mins including interval

PRICES

Full €26, Concession €22.50. Family matinee ticket €75 (2 adults & 2 children or 1 adult & 3 children)

BOOK NOW

Book Online

 

You can tweet the festival @kilkennyarts (hashtag #MuchAdo) or visit their Facebook page.