Viva Cuba: the model box of the set
Marianne Elliott's Cuban set production of Much Ado About Nothing was performed as part of the RSC's Complete Works Festival (2006-2007) and opened at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in May 2006, before transferring to Newcastle Upon Tyne and the Novello Theatre, London.
The production was set specifically in 1953 before the Cuban revolution which brought Fidel Castro to power. In this photograph of the model box, the Swan Theatre has been transformed by the designer Lez Brotherston into a Cuban nightclub complete with suspended illuminations and neon signs. In addition, the crumbling brickwork and corroded metalwork of Leonato's mansion suggests decayed splendour.
Marianne Elliott, the Director, felt that the pre-Castro Cuba setting had suitable resonance for the play with its Catholicism, imperialism and male code of honour.
Directing Much Ado
In this photo taken during the rehearsal for the 2006 production of Much Ado About Nothing,the director, Marianne Elliott, discusses a scene with Tamsin Greig who played Beatrice. Both women were making their debuts with the RSC.
A key theme for Marianne Elliott was how characters in the play learn about life through love and she noted that camouflaged under Beatrice's witty exterior is a big heart. Michael Billington thought that Greig's Beatrice conveyed 'the caustic wit and pencil-skirted style of a wise-cracking Hollywood dame like Eve Arden' Guardian, 19 May 2006. Tamsin Greig won the Best Actress Laurence Olivier Award in 2007 for her portrayal of Beatrice in Elliott's production of Much Ado About Nothing.
Marianne Elliott talks more about her production here:
Photo of Tamsin Greig (Beatrice) and Marianne Elliott by Simon Annand
© RSC –
Men behaving badly
In the 2006 production of Much Ado About Nothing, the director, Marianne Elliott, was interested in the idea of soldiers enjoying rest and recuperation in a lively exotic location. Lez Brotherston's costume designs for the party scene reflected the pulsating, sexy, sweaty atmosphere of a cigar smoke-filled club.
The soldier in this exuberant costume design is ready to party Cuban-style as he sports a feathery beaked mask and boa, a long fluffy scarf usually worn by women. A bottle of alcohol, probably rum, can be seen poking out of his army fatigue trousers. His military identity tag is also visible on his chest. The Latin American setting, as realised by Lez Brotherston's design, highlighted the play's hot blood and macho honour code.
Balthasar in the club
“Men were deceivers ever.” Balthasar, Act 2 Scene 3
Marianne Elliott's Cuban setting of Much Ado About Nothing in 2006 throbbed to the beat of music and Olly Fox's score included rumbas, sambas and congas. The character of Balthasar was transformed from a male attendant of Don Pedro to a female club singer, as we can see in this costume design sketch by Lez Brotherston.
In this production, Balthasar (Yvette Duncan-Rochester) performed “Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more” as a torch song (a sentimental love song, usually about lost or unreturned love), warning women about the fickleness of male love. The different way men and women experience love is a key theme in the play.
Virgin Mary masks
“Done to death by slanderous tongues.” Claudio, Act 5 Scene 3
The second half of Marianne Elliott's 2006 production of Much Ado About Nothing, after Hero has been shamed and rejected in the church, was much darker in mood. Reputation is everything to the characters in the play which is why they react so violently when this is compromised. By locating the play in pre-revolutionary Catholic Cuba, the director created connections with Shakespeare's Messina and its male-dominated society, where women are either saints or sinners.
Here we see the penitent Claudio confronted by a group of black-clad female mourners wearing Virgin Mary masks. In keeping with the religious tone, the stone bench has been transformed into a shrine for the 'dead' Hero. The mask motif ran through this production, hiding not just identities but also true feelings.
A distinctive Dogberry
“O that I had been writ down an ass!” Dogberry, Act 4 Scene 2
Unlike the witty banter between Beatrice and Benedick, the broader comedy of Dogberry and the Watch is often problematic for modern productions of Much Ado About Nothing. In her 2006 production, the director Marianne Elliott wanted her Dogberry to have a very distinctive look which reflected his comical self-obsession and ineffectualness. Dogberry as played by Bette Bourne wore masculine attire and feminine make-up.
In this sketch of Lez Brotherston's costume design, we can see the pantomime-like policeman's helmet contrasting with the macho ammunition bandolier (belt), handcuffs and combat boots. This Dogberry presented a quirky facade which might well mask his real inclinations in such a macho society.
Stage Manager's storyboard
In this extract from the storyboard from the 2006 production of Much Ado About Nothing, we can see how scenes 1-3 of Act 2 are broken down visually for stage management. If we examine Act 2 scene 3, entitled 'Benedick's Gulling Scene', we learn that the scene takes place 7pm on a Saturday outside a nightclub, hence the props which include booze, cigars, lighters and playing cards. There is also a mention of Balthasar's 1950s microphone which she uses to sing 'Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more”.
Other items to be carried on to the Swan Theatre stage include a bike, table, chairs and a bush or large pot plant, which Benedick hiders behind. The type of book needed “AK47 [rifle]manual/diary/jokes!” has not been specified yet. At the end of each scene, the Stage Manager notes any items that need to be carried off the stage.
Benedick in a bush
“I should think this a gull, but that the white-bearded fellow speaks it: knavery cannot sure hide himself in such reverence”. Benedick, Act 2 Scene 3
In this photograph from the 2006 production of Much Ado About Nothing, Benedick (Joseph Millson) is just visible as he eavesdrops on Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato discussing Beatrice's hopeless passion for him. This is one of the scenes visualized in the previous image of the storyboard and we can see how the bush is used to dramatic effect to camouflage the snooping Benedick.
Reviewers noted that Joseph Millson's Benedick and Tamsin's Greig's Beatrice made a funny, intelligent and passionate pair. In the course of the play, Millson's Benedick changed from a flippant batchelor to a faithful lover, prepared to kill one of his friends if honour and Beatrice's love demands it.