The Tragedy of King Richard The Second (Almeida Theatre)

The Tragedy of King Richard the Second. Simon Russell Beale as Richard. Photo by Marc Brenner.

This bold and taut new production of the Shakespeare classic is currently running at the Almeida in Islington, and takes inspiration both from the political landscape and playground games where one child comes out the conqueror.

In a cast of eight, Simon Russell Beale adds another major character from the Bard to his portfolio, having previously triumphed as Hamlet, Macbeth, Iago, Prospero, Richard III and Lear. During the show he has water, soil and blood thrown at him, and becomes a pitiful figure in his grief and broken arrogance.

This production is visceral, intimate and intense. The killing of traitorous courtiers is shocking in its speed, leaving the blood literally running down the walls of the sparse plasterboard box which serves as the set. The gardeners who tend Richard’s prison garden turn on him with buckets of earth raining on his head, leaving the king literally lying in the filth that represents how low his star has fallen.

There are numerous character changes with such a small cast – Saskia Reeves, for example, moves from banished Mowbray to cunning sycophant to pleading Duchess. Leo Bill, as Bolingbroke, made me think briefly of David Troughton in the same role for the RSC close to two decades ago: another modern dress production with a weak and piteous Richard, crushed by vanity and ambition, bettered by a strong and centred usurper.

The Tragedy of King Richard the Second. Martins Imhangbe, Leo Bill, Simon Russell Beale, Saskia Reeves, Robin Weaver. Photo by Marc Brenner.

Some textual changes mean the lines within the prison are repeated at both ends of this 1 hour and 40 minute production, and a bold decision is taken to end with the now King Henry’s Holy Land speech dissolving into the giggles the school bully might express after tormenting his victims.

With the cast dressed in casual clothes, the only props the crown of the king and the buckets utilised to drench various characters, the focus is very much on the game of politics, monarchy, and dominance. Joe Hill-Gibbins directs a tight piece which might not always hit the mark, but is never less than interesting.

The Tragedy of King Richard the Second. Simon Russell Beale as the King, and the cast. Photo by Marc Brenner.

To compare Beale’s Richard with others I have seen is instructive – David Tennant was full of pomp and ceremony, Samuel West a lost and petulant little boy. Beale is a bit of both, and his verse speaking is head and shoulders above some of his colleagues here (Joseph Mydell’s John of Gaunt was particularly disappointing in his well-known speech, but yet still gained sympathy is his time of death, pleading for the legacy of his banished son).

This may not be a production I rave about for years, but it is definitely worth a look, and if your pockets don’t stretch to the (admittedly reasonable) Almeida prices, this production shows in NT Live soon.

Advertisements

Shakespeare 400: Film and TV

There have been many, many screen versions of Shakespeare’s plays – please follow the links below to my lists on Letterboxd to find a range of straight adaptations and versions inspired by the Bard’s work.

Such a rich store of films, television and recordings from the RSC, the National Theatre, the Globe, and Digital Theatre exist to prove the Bard remains relevant 400 years after his passing.

tragedieshamlet

Shakespeare – The Tragedies (http://boxd.it/8yDy), covering 11 of the 37 plays: Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Timon of Athens, Titus Andronicus, Troilus and Cressida.

Five to try:

  • Antony and Cleopatra (1974, dir Jon Scoffield, with Richard Johnson and Janet Suzman).  This will be released by Network Distributing later this year.
  • The Bad Sleep Well (1960, dir Akira Kurosawa).  A Japanese loose version of Hamlet.
  • Macbeth on the Estate (1997, dir Penny Woolcock, with James Frain).
  • Othello (1990, dir Trevor Nunn, with Willard White and Ian McKellen).
  • Romeo and Juliet (1984, from the Royal Ballet, with Wayne Eagling and Alessandra Ferri, to Kenneth Macmillan’s choreography).

comediescomedydench

Shakespeare – The Comedies (http://boxd.it/8yDS), covering 12 of the 37 plays: All’s Well That Ends Well, The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Measure for Measure, Merry Wives of Windsor, The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing.

Five to try:

  • The Comedy of Errors (1976, dir Trevor Nunn, with Judi Dench, with music by Guy Woolfenden).
  • McLintock! (1963, dir Andrew V. McLaglen, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara).  A Western inspired by The Taming of the Shrew.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935, dir Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle).  A Hollywood fantasy with Mickey Rooney as Puck.
  • Much Ado About Nothing (2012, dir Joss Whedon).
  • The Merchant of Venice (1972, dir Cedric Messina, with Frank Finlay as Shylock and Maggie Smith as Portia).

historiesrichardshaw

Shakespeare – The Histories (http://boxd.it/8yEc), covering 10 of the 37 plays: Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, Henry V, Henry VI Part 1, Henry VI Part 2, Henry VI Part 3, Richard III, Henry VIII, King John.

Five to try:

  • Richard III (1995, dir Richard Loncraine, with Ian McKellen).  Set in the Nazi era with a modern feel.
  • Henry V (1944, dir by and starring Laurence Olivier).  A stirring version made during the Second World War.
  • King John (1984, dir David Giles, with Leonard Rossiter, for the BBC Shakespeare).
  • Henry VIII (2010, dir Mark Rosenblatt, for Globe on Screen, with Dominic Rowan).
  • Richard II (1978, dir David Giles, with Derek Jacobi, for the BBC Shakespeare).

romancestempestglobe

Shakespeare – The Romances (http://boxd.it/8yEw), covering 4 of the 37 plays: Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest.

Five to try:

  • Prospero’s Books (1991, dir Peter Greenaway, with John Gielgud).  Inspired by The Tempest.
  • The Winter’s Tale (1999, dir Gregory Doran, with Antony Sher, for the RSC).
  • The Tempest (1908, dir Percy Stow).
  • Cymbeline (2013, dir Michael Almereyda, with Ethan Hawke).  With an urban gang setting.
  • The Winter’s Tale (1910, dir Thanhouser).

 

 

Shakespeare 400 in images

  • Marlon Brando plays Mark Antony in the 1953 film of ‘Julius Caesar’;
  • Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in the 1968 film of ‘Romeo and Juliet’;
  • Kenneth Branagh in his 1996 film of ‘Hamlet’;
  • Laurence Olivier in his 1944 film of ‘Henry V’;
  • Wendy Hiller, Cyril Cusack, Michael Kitchen and Roger Daltrey in the 1983 BBC Shakespeare TV version of ‘The Comedy of Errors’;
  • Simon Russell Beale in the National Theatre’s 2012 production of ‘Timon of Athens’;
  • Dumaine (Adrian Lester), Berowne (Kenneth Branagh), Longaville (Matthew Lillard), and Ferdinand (Alessandro Nivola) in the 2000 film of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’;
  • Philip Quast as Achilles and Jeremy Sheffield as Patroclus in the RSC’s 1996 production of ‘Troilus and Cressida’;
  • Jonathan and Phoebe Pryce in the Globe Theatre’s 2015 production of ‘The Merchant of Venice’;
  • Judi Dench as Titania in the 1968 film of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’;
  • Antony Sher as Falstaff in the RSC’s 2014 production of ‘Henry IV Part 1’;
  • Ian McKellen in the 1979 TV version of the RSC’s production of ‘Macbeth’;
  • Guy Henry in the RSC’s 2001 production of ‘King John’;
  • Robert Shaw (Leontes), Rosalie Crutchley (Hermoine) and Patrick McNee (Polixines) in the 1962 TV production of ‘A Winter’s Tale’;
  • Paul Robeson in a 1942 stage production of ‘Othello’;
  • Christopher Benjamin as Falstaff in the Globe’s 2010 production of ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’;
  • Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore in the 1953 film of ‘Kiss Me Kate’ (based on ‘The Taming of the Shrew’);
  • Gary Bond and Irena Mayeska as Benedick and Beatrice in the 1970 Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’;
  • Anthony Hopkins in the 1999 film of ‘Titus’;
  • Heathcote Williams as Prospero and Toyah as Miranda in the 1979 film of ‘The Tempest’;
  • Romola Garai as Celia in the 2006 film of ‘As You Like It’;
  • Ben Miles as the Duke and Anna Maxwell-Martin as Isabella in the 2010 Almeida Theatre production of ‘Measure for Measure’;
  • Derek Jacobi in the BBC Shakespeare TV adaptation of ‘Richard II’ (1978);
  • Ian Charleson and cast of the BBC Shakespeare TV adaptation of ‘All’s Well That End’s Well’ (1980);
  • The National Theatre of Greece at the Globe in their 2012 production of ‘Pericles’;
  • Tom Courtenay in the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, 1999 production of ‘King Lear’;
  • Alan Howard in the RSC’s 1978 production of ‘Coriolanus’;
  • Alan Bates and Frances de La Tour in the RSC’s 2000 production of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’;
  • William Houston as Prince Hal and David Troughton as Henry IV in the RSC’s 2000 production of ‘Henry IV Part 2’;
  • Mark Rylance in the Globe’s 2012 production of ‘Richard III’;
  • Richard Johnson in the BBC Shakespeare TV adaptation of ‘Cymbeline’ (1983);
  • Tommy Steele as Feste in the 1969 TV adaptation of ‘Twelfth Night’;
  • Dominic Rowan as Henry with Amanda Lawrence as his fool in the Globe’s 2010 production of ‘Henry VIII’.

Shakespeare 400: The Complete Walk and Shakespeare Live! (RSC)

The 23rd April is both St George’s Day and the anniversary of both the birth and death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), and as we have now reached 400 years since the poet/playwright’s death, both the Globe Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company have created projects which happened this weekend.

completewalk

The Complete Walk presents all 37 plays in chronological order in a route starting at St Thomas’ Hospital with The Two Gentlemen of Verona and finishing at Potters Fields Park with The Tempest.

We saw eleven of the plays between Hungerford Bridge (Titus Andronicus, with Peter Capaldi, rather battling against the noise of the trains above), to the back of the Oxo Tower (The Merry Wives of Windsor, with Mel Giedroyc).  Three screens (The Comedy of Errors, Henry IV Part 2, and Much Ado About Nothing) were not working as we passed, and I understand technical issues have plagued this project a bit on a windy, cold and showery day yesterday – hopefully today will have more of a hit rate.

  1. Titus Andronicus (under Hungerford Bridge).  Filmed in Rome, this shows a different side of Capaldi than is familiar to most these days from Doctor Who.
  2. Henry VI Part 2 (under Golden Jubilee Bridge).  Filmed at Spitalsfield Market, this was a very modern take of a little-known history play.
  3. Romeo and Juliet (opposite Royal Festival Hall).  Filmed at Verona with Jessie Buckley and Luke Thompson in glorious blue tints in the closing tomb scene, this was well acted and also featured scenes from the Globe’s production with Ellie Kendrick and Adetomiwa Edun.
  4. Richard III (next to Waterloo Bridge).  Filmed in the Tower of London, with a glorious monologue from Claire Higgins, Queen Margaret’s speech from Act 4.
  5. Love’s Labour’s Lost (in front of the National Theatre).  Filmed in Navarre, with Gemma Arterton and David Dawson.  Beautifully shot but the volume made it hard to follow.
  6. King John (in front of the National Theatre).  The Hubert and Arthur scene, filmed a the Holy Sepulchre, with the right amount of murderous intent and tension.
  7. Richard II (Observation Point).  Filmed in Westminster Hall, with James Norton in the abdication and ‘I have wasted time’ scenes.  An actor I don’t care for, but I wanted to see more of this.
  8. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Gabriel’s Wharf Bandstand).  Filmed at Wilton House, with the Theseus and Hippolyta scenes, and the wall scene with ‘the rude mechanicals’.  Funny but lacking the play’s magic.
  9. The Merchant of Venice (Riverside Slice).  Filmed in the Jewish Ghetto, Venice, with Jonathan and Phoebe Pryce reprising their roles as Shylock and Jessica alongside scenes from the Globe production.  Looks great but the sound was drowned out by an adjacent screen.
  10. Henry IV Part 1 (Bernie Spain Gardens).  Filmed at the George Inn, Southwark, with Toby Jones as a drunken Falstaff we first meet passed out in a cubicle in the Gents.  Very funny but far too loud.
  11. The Merry Wives of Windsor (behind the Oxo Tower).  The scene between the Mistresses discussing Falstaff and the basket, with one of them in drag.  Plays like a comedy sketch.

It’s a varied project, and an accomplished one.  The YouTube channel for Shakespeare’s Globe includes trailers for Timon of Athens (with Simon Russell Beale) and King Lear (with Kenneth Cranham).  I hope this project – which also ran in Liverpool this weekend, but mainly in interior locations – has an additional life beyond the opportunity to see the films in situ.

shakespearelive

In the evening, there was a television broadcast live from Stratford-upon-Avon which mixed music (excerpts from West Side Story and Kiss Me Kate, opera and ballet, jazz and hip hop, and appearances from Rufus Wainwright and tenor Ian Bostridge), comedy (a delightful ‘nine Hamlet’ sketch which includes Cumberbatch, McKellen, Dench and others, including Prince Charles, advising on how to speak the classic ‘To Be or Not To Be’ soliloquy), speeches (Ian McKellen as Thomas More, Roger Allam as Lear, Judi Dench as Titania with Al Murray as Bottom, Rory Kinnear and Ann-Marie Duff as the Macbeths) and filmed inserts (Joseph Fiennes within the Shakespeare Trust properties at Stratford, and Simon Russell Beale doing part of the John of Gaunt speech from Richard II).

Uneven at the start, this settled into a classy piece of live theatre, although it was not quite as good as the earlier ‘National Theatre at 50’.  Appearances from the likes of Helen Mirren, David Suchet, and the aforementioned Dame Judi and Sir Ian interested me more than a group of students performing Bernstein or a poorly spoken Juliet in the balcony scene.  Still, there was a good range of plays represented, and a strong sense of how Shakespeare has moved into many areas of popular culture.

olivierhamet

To close this post, I will share the costume from the 1948 film of Hamlet, starring and directed by Laurence Olivier, which can be found in the BFI Southbank’s small Shakespeare on Film exhibition in their Mezzanine (above the box office), which accompanies their rather populist season of screenings.

The Merchant of Venice (Globe Theatre, Bankside)

A trip to the outdoors today and Shakespeare’s Globe for one of my favourites of the Bard’s plays, in Jonathan Munby’s production of ‘The Merchant of Venice’.  Jonathan Pryce, last seen on stage by me in King Lear, now plays Shylock, the Jewish usurer who plays Dominic Mafham’s Antonio for a ‘merry bond’ of a pound of the merchant’s flesh should he default on a loan of 3,000 ducats.  Antonio himself has sought this loan for his young friend Bassanio (Daniel Lapaine), who, despite being aware of, and repelling, the advances of the older man, still openly seeks his help to woo fair Portia (Rachel Pickup), who is herself trapped in the will of her late father where a successful suitor for her hand must choose a casket which contains her picture.

pryceandmafhammerchant

There are many ways a Merchant can be performed.  Here, the gay angle between Antonio and Bassanio is very much in evidence, while Pryce’s Shylock is a complex man who reveres his God and Testament (when Antonio dashes it to the ground, Shylock stoops to pick it up, brushes the dirt away, and kisses the volume) while nurturing a hate of Christians which seeks him to eventually sit in court, sharpening his knife, setting out his scales, and almost salivating at the thought that the merchant whose ships have failed might bleed to death at his hand.

A non-Shakespearian coda of Shylock’s forced baptism while his daughter Jessica (played by Pryce’s real-life child Phoebe) sings a Yiddish lament, is a moving close to a play which normally ends light with the farcical ring swap sequence between the two couples.  It almost swings the pendulum so we feel some sympathy for the Jew, despite his bloodthirsty and uncharitable conduct before the judge.  Not that Antonio appears noble and just in this play – in roughly grabbing Shylock by the beard, laughing at his religion, or spitting at his clothes, he appears racist and undeserving of the regard of Bassanio or his wife (disguised as a young doctor, whose eloquence and knowledge – although both founded in the chaos and panic of the judgement in court – save the day).

Jessica’s flight from home with jewels and ducats, and her easy conversion to Christianity, flaunting a cross around her neck through the second half of the play, is quickly accepted by the young Christians in this piece, although they still refer to her as ‘infidel’.  It contrasts sharply with the obvious distress of the Jew who, judgement given that he must convert, clings to an Antonio who himself was earlier grovelling and crying for his life, with pitiful sobs and moans.   For him the loss of his God is akin to the loss of life.

In the tradition of other Globe productions, the music gives a special atmosphere to the piece, as does Gobbo’s coercion of audience members to play his ‘fiend’ and ‘conscience’.  As Gobbo, Stefan Adegbola gives this play well-balanced comedy, as do the second set of lovers, Portia’s maid Nerissa (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) and Bassanio’s wisecracking companion, Gratiano (David Sturzaker).  I also liked the unlucky Princes of Morocco (Scott Karim) and Arragon (Christopher Logan), who chose wrongly in their suit for Portia.  Morocco’s greed and Arragon’s foolish vanity are well-conveyed, and both men play their parts well.

Mafham is an excellent Antonio, a man who teeters on the pathetic at times, whose life will not be happiness as his idol, Bassanio, is aware of his interest and constantly pushes him away, literally in their embrace where Antonio leans in for a kiss and Bassanio recoils sharply.  He may be accepted as friend by Portia but it may break him to see her and the young man he craves being so content together.

This is probably Pryce’s show, though, and he is convincing as Shylock, whether isolated in the court, giving the ‘Hath a Jew eyes’ speech, or collapsing from his court bluster to the man who has lost all because of his hate for others.  It gives an interesting dynamic to see him act alongside his daughter, and I think he does succeed in portraying all the facets of this complex role.

Looking at King Lear and its variants

In this post I want to look at film, television and video versions of King Lear, whether straight adaptations with Shakespeare text, or modern stories based on the characters or situations in the play.

In 1909 an American silent short was filmed by J Stuart Blackton and William Ranous (who also played the lead), for the Vitagraph company.  It only exists today in fragments.  Ranous (1857-1915) also appeared in other Shakespeare adaptations – Macbeth, Julius Caesar, but was perhaps more suited to the role of the ageing monarch displaced from his kingdom.

Continue reading “Looking at King Lear and its variants”

NT Live: Macbeth (from Manchester International Festival)

A trip last week to see the much-lauded production of the Scottish play transmitted live from St Peter’s Church, Manchester, starring Kenneth Branagh, Alex Kingston, Ray Fearon, John Shrapnel and a hard-working cast who keep this tale of murder and madness zipping along in the deconsecrated space.

The opening scene is one of pure war – in place of hearsay of Macbeth’s bravery, we see it for ourselves, alongside the betrayal of Scotland’s good and great by the Thane of Cawdor.  The weird witches appear from large doors at one end of the aisle, croaking both Macbeth’s path to greatness and his doom.

Branagh, who also co-directs, is a fine technician, but I never quite believe in his characters, and that’s the case here.  Compare his mighty Thane who will be king hereafter with Alex Kingston’s womanly Lady M, who ends up horrified, disturbed, and almost possessed by guilt as she sleepwalks.  As Macduff, the former soap opera actor Ray Fearon is superb in a portrayal which sees the soldier break down and feel his grief ‘as a man’ – the most touching and powerful interpretation of the role I have seen in many versions of the play.

Amongst the smaller roles, John Shrapnel is a warrior Duncan (and also reappears as Macbeth’s servant and the holy Father who talks of the horses eating each other), and Alexander Vlahos is certainly one to watch as Malcolm.  Jimmy Yuill plays Banquo with some bluster and makes a powerful ghost when it comes to the banquet scene where Macbeth’s ‘safe’ haven starts to crumble.

The best part of this production (viewed in the cinema in HD), is the set and the ambience – the rain and the mud of battles, the use of the church windows and space to generate the image of a dagger, or odd colours which illuminate the earth-coloured space as Malcolm makes his false confession to Macduff.  The church and its candles acts as a backdrop for Lady Macbeth’s prayers, the murder of Duncan (rarely seen on stage), and the interaction with the play of the charcoal-faced witches.

Rob Ashford and Kenneth Branagh have created a worthy Macbeth in a ‘found space’ which works brilliantly, despite Branagh’s lack of real engagement in the lead.  There’s much to enjoy here, and I envy those few who got one of the coveted tickets to see this live.

Theatre review: Othello (National Theatre)

Over to the National last week for Nicholas Hytner’s modern version of ‘Othello’, set in the present-day army but keeping the majority of the text as Shakespeare intended.

Adrian Lester, a fine stage performer who has played Hamlet for Peter Brook and Bobby in the musical Company for Sam Mendes, is probably best known now for the TV series ‘Hustle’. His Othello doesn’t have the majesty of an Olivier or a Willard White (both classic stage-screen Othellos), but his modern general appears bored with the casual racism of his regiment and enamoured of his new young wife, the ‘gentle Desdemona’.

Rory Kinnear, whose career has ranged so far from screen appearances in ‘Women in Love’ and ‘Black Mirror’ to a National Hamlet, is a mean and devious Iago, with a lower middle-class swagger, crude and bitter. How his peers can view him as an honest man remains a mystery, and although he is good, I would have liked to have seen a bit more definition between his actions when with those he deceived, and his confidences with the audience when in soliloquy, but all in all, his is a good portrayal of this complex character.

There are gems in the supporting performances. Olivia Vinali as Desdemona and Lyndsey Marshal as Emilia (an enlisted squaddie in uniform) are memorable, and Jonathan Bailey is a strong Cassio. Less successful is Tom Robertson as Roderigo, too much the fool to be believable, but even he has his moments, as do the smaller roles like Brabantio (William Chubb).

My main issue with the modern setting of this production is that the main plot point of Desdemona making a grievous error in marrying outside of her race doesn’t have an impact other than making the insults (‘thick-lips’, ‘black ram’) sound inspired by racism. Neither would a modern soldier be permitted to take his wife into an area of combat. But these are small points.

A good production, and still powerful when a silent and unrepentant Iago stares at the bed loaded with death that he has caused in the play’s closing moments.

Archive TV review: The Winter’s Tale (1962), UnLOCked, BFI Southbank

As part of both the World Shakespeare Festival (for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad) and the UnLOCked season (showcasing material thought lost from the archives which was located in the Library of Congress in 2010), this adaptation of Shakespeare’s 1623 play ‘The Winter’s Tale’ was the first done for television, transmitted on Good Friday, 1962, on the BBC.

Running 144 minutes, there is little pruning of the original play, which centres on the kingdom of Sicilia, where the jealous King, Leontes (Robert Shaw), accuses his Queen, Hermione (Rosalie Crutchley) of adultery with his good friend and neighbouring monarch, Polixenes (Patrick Macnee). In his murderous hate he attempts to have Polixenes murdered by his faithful servant Camillo (Nigel Stock), and casts Hermione’s baby daughter into the wilderness to die as he is convinced she is not his. As for Hermione, when she comes to trial her innocence and piety causes her to expire in front of the court, sending a penitent Leontes into a sixteen year period of repentance and sorrow.

Don Taylor directs this sparse version of the play, which employs minimal settings, close-ups, and a set of excellent performances to put across a play which has its difficulties (coincidences, Apollo, statues, and a bear). As well as the principals, there are comic turns from Ron Moody (Autolicus), Norman Rossington (Clown), and a measured performance from Brenda Bruce as Hermoine’s faithful maid, Paulina. Other memorable turns include an Antigonus from Geoffrey Bayldon and a Perdita from Sarah Badel which fit the next perfectly, and there is an early appearance from William Gaunt in a minor role.

Although Crutchley might not be everyone’s first choice as the wronged Queen Hermoine, she does well here and convinces, especially in her trial scene – less so in her early, flirty scenes with Macnee (perhaps because he doesn’t really go well with Shakespeare). And despite being missing from screen for a whole act of the play, Robert Shaw is an excellent Leontes, with his Northern grit and desperation adding to the portrait of a King possessed, and finally, (‘O, she’s warm …’) lost for words and emotion.

These BBC recoveries are real gems, and another restored piece in the history of Shakespeare on screen. With only one other production of this play having been made for television (during the BBC Shakespeare season of the 1970s-80s), this is surely a valuable and fascinating recovery. A pity, then, that there were so few to watch it in the BFI Southbank cinema last night – audiences are missing a treat.

Archive TV review: Much Ado About Nothing (1967)

Part of the UnLOCked series of screenings at the BFI Southbank, showcasing British television plays which were wiped by the BBC (mainly) and then rediscovered in prints sent to American for showing on public television, this adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is notable as it was the first time the entire play had been adapted for television.

In 1965 Franco Zefferelli had directed this production for the National Theatre, and most of the cast reprised their roles for the screen (with one exception – Ronald Pickup replaced Albert Finney as the evil Don John). This is part comedy, part mistaken identity – and there are some delightful performances here, notably Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens as the sparring Beatrice and Benedick (they would soon become a married couple in real life), Caroline John as the unjustly accused Hero, Frank Finlay as dumb policeman Dogberry, and Derek Jacobi, oddly accented, as the good Don.

Using a mix of extreme close-ups and clever sets (including a number of ‘living’ statues) to highlight the text, the audience is pulled right into the action, and despite a poor print which has muddy picture and sound, the play transfers across with all the wit and energy it must have had when first staged. It’s also a good game of ‘spot the familiar face’ including Graham Crowden (‘Waiting for God’), Christopher Timothy (‘All Creatures Great and Small’), Michael Gambon (‘Harry Potter’) and Barry Evans (‘Mind Your Language’).

This play though belongs to Smith and Stephens. Even in her youth she has the imperious vocal tones we recognise from her recent stint in ‘Downton Abbey’, while he has all the buoyancy and energy of an actor who was at that time feted as the new Olivier.

Hugely enjoyable, although whether we will get a chance to see it again in any form is debatable. But I’m glad it has been found, if only for the wonderful way bushes and a washing line are employed while Beatrice and Benedick are teased of each other’s professed affection!