Atomic Fission Tour | 2006

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Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens during the play
  • Leonato, Governor of Messina, welcomes the victorious Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, and his men after a battle.
  • Beatrice (Leonato’s niece) and Benedick (a lord and companion to Don Pedro) continue their “merry war” and verbally spar with one another.
  • Claudio (a younger lord and companion to Don Pedro) tells Benedick and Don Pedro that he is in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero.
  • Don Pedro devises a plan in which he will pretend to be Claudio at a masked party, woo Hero for Claudio, and then get Leonato to give consent for Hero to marry Claudio.
  • Don John, bastard brother of Don Pedro, tells his man Conrad “I cannot hide what I am…a plain dealing villain.”
  • Borachio, another servant to Don John, says that he overheard the Prince’s plan to woo Hero for Claudio; Don John then asks his men for assistance to “cross” Claudio.
  • At the masked party, Don John convinces Claudio that Don Pedro has wooed Hero for himself.
  • Don Pedro and Leonato clear the air when they reveal that Claudio may marry Hero.
  • Borachio, another follower of Don John, devises a plot with Don John to make Claudio believe Hero has been unfaithful.
  • Knowing that Benedick is eavesdropping on them and thus will overhear, Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato pretend to be aware that Beatrice has professed her love for Benedick.
  • Knowing that Beatrice is eavesdropping on them and thus will overhear, Hero and her gentlewoman Ursula pretend to be aware that Benedick has professed his love for Beatrice.
  • Don John puts his plot into motion by telling Claudio that his fiancée “is disloyal” and invites him and Don Pedro to go “see her chamber window entered, even the night before her wedding day.” Claudio vows that if he should “see anything to-night why [he] should not marry her, tomorrow…will [he] shame her.”
  • Dogberry the Constable and his partner Verges prepare their watchmen for the night patrol.
  • Borachio tells Conrad how he tricked Claudio into believing Hero was unfaithful. The watchmen overhear and arrest Borachio and Conrad.
  • Villainy, shaming, growing up, and much about what matters most ensue.
Notes from the Director
after a period of bitter conflict…

Writing this “note from the director” reminds me of the extent to which I have found myself sometimes taking these great plays for granted. Welcome to our production of Much Ado About Nothing, a play which must have been performed thousands of times over the last 400 years or so. I wonder if our actors are the only people on the planet speaking these words at this precise moment? It’s very humbling. Now is a great opportunity for us, as actors and audience members, to make our time with this story unique. I hope we don’t blow it.

Much Ado About Nothing is the kind of comedy that keeps its audience painfully aware of how tragically it could turn out, right until the last moment. It contains equal measures of sparkling wit and extreme pathos. It is a high stakes comedy, with everything to lose. I hope that the troupe and I will find a way to bring you this story in a like manner.

I was interested in us trying to establish the immediately-post war atmosphere of the play’s beginning as something very recognizable: the famous photographs that captured the Allies’ responses to the end of WWII seemed particularly alluring. Looking at those tickertape parades, those joyous quayside reunions, and Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photograph of the sailor kissing a girl in Times Square on V.J. Day, you can almost hear the Andrews Sisters chirping in the background. I was also intrigued by the idea of a sudden influx of returning veterans engulfing the grateful but surely fragile communities they had left behind. I wonder if, at the time, the future seemed a bit uncertain.

I think that whatever time the play might find itself set in, the important thing to capture at the beginning of the play is a sense of society’s absolute, almost desperate need for levity and celebration, after a period of bitter conflict whether or not there are sufficient resources to celebrate. To be “seen” to be enjoying yourself, if that makes any sense, has always been important to us after times of great hardship and suffering. Leonato welcomes Don Pedro and his soldiers not just because he is a hospitable man – he understands that the rehabilitation of his community depends upon making sure that the future seems as bright and exciting as the war was bleak and depressing. Maybe this thought is why so much seems to depend on the union of Claudio and Hero…

Large sections of the play are written in prose. A friend and Globe Theatre colleague once gave me the idea that Shakespeare’s verse “speaks from the heart” and that prose is really “the mind censoring the heart.” The idea that prose is somehow more “knowing” than verse interests me. I thought it might be worth exploring this idea in our production. It’s certainly interesting that the first “heartfelt” words that Beatrice speaks when she professes her love for Benedick, not to Benedick himself, but to the audience are her first lines of verse in the play. I wonder what you’ll think.

I hope you find that our production has a strong physicality, in the way the troupe moves, the way it tackles the words and the pace of the show. It’s always great for a group of actors to be at the peak of its physical and vocal fitness, as it means you can do more, better. The Blackfriars Stage Company began life as the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, quickly distinguishing itself as the company that did more, better, faster. So, I reckon, we have sizable boots to fill.

I think that, sometimes, Beatrice and Benedick are sometimes theatrically misunderstood. Nobody really enjoys bitching all the time. In fact, they strike me as rather sad characters: Beatrice, a lovely, scared young woman who is perfectly capable of talking her way out of any meaningful relationship, and Benedick, a rather insecure, likable man who wishes he didn’t have to rely on his quips so much. I suspect both initially envy the young lovers Claudio and Hero, though neither would admit it.

I wrote to the troupe after the casting was finalized and gave them my two cents’ worth about “how we should tackle this thing.” Luckily, somewhere in the middle of all that stuff, I remembered to thank them for agreeing to be in the show. On behalf of the Blackfriars Stage Company, I’d like to thank you, too, for being in this show. I hope it’s great…

Jacquelyn Bessell