Natalie Gravenor | Friday September 12th, 2014 | 1
To “brush up your Shakespeare” is always a good idea, as the Bard is never out of fashion. Sometimes the focus is on the relevance of his historical plays like CORIOLANUS (in Ralph Fiennes’ topical adaptation) to current political developments. Or film adaptations explore and exploit the youth culture appeal (most famously Baz Luhrman’s “William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” which made Leonardo diCaprio and Clare Danes household words). Recently, it’s Shakespeare’s comedies that have fueled the imagination of the likes of Joss Whedon. “The Avengers” and “Firefly” mastermind has directed an adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing” in stylish black and white, set in a luxurious L.A. mansion (Whedon’s own digs) and shot in 12 days during a break in the post-production of “The Avengers”. The classic witty repartee is delivered by such Whedon stalwarts as Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof with razor-sharp timing. Set and costume design create a world that is both contemporary and timeless.
Despite the well-orchestrated plot points of intrigue, mistaken identity and triple-crosses, the main attraction of “Much Ado Nothing” remains the explosive chemistry between Benedick and Beatrice (played by Acker and Denisof in Whedon’s film) – ostensibly secondary characters to the main pair of lovers Claudio and Hero but whose complex relationship is the true focal point. The alliterative couple’s love-hate relationship and stinging barbs have become the template for literary and cinematic attraction-repulsion dances: from Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy (and their modern-day wannabes Mark Darcy and Bridget Jones) to any number of screwball couples like Walter and Hildy (Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell) in HIS GIRL FRIDAY and countless other romcoms.
This is probably why Much Ado About Nothing is often performed and adapted. At Vienna’s renowned Burgtheater, director Jan Bosse also sets his staging of VIEL LÄRM UM NICHTS (the play’s German title) in the present day. But where there were silk suits in Whedon’s film, Bosse has his actors display chest hair, tattoos and gold chains. The villainous Don John, played with equal measures of slime and hurt pensiveness by Jörg Ratjen, sports nerdy designer glasses and a comb-over), foregrounding the quasi Mafiosi dealings of Claudio (Christian Nickel), Benedick (Joachim Meyerhoff) and Prince Pedro (Nicholas Ofczarek). Hero (Dorothee Hartinger) is a not very talkative (but expressive in other ways) blond girlie, while Beatrice (Christiane von Poelnitz) strikes an art nouveau Louise Brooks pose. The delivery is earthier and the dialogue coarser (with explicit references to male sexual organs) and the road to the happy end bumpier. The Burgtheater version is worth the ride, also because of the dynamic but non-obtrusive use of cinematography and editing to record the performance for the screen. The recording was directed Hannes Rossacher, who with Rudi Dolezal (as DoRo) helmed music videos for Queen, Falco, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Whitney Houston and countless others. DoRo also directed “Get Up, Stand Up”, an acclaimed documentary series about music and politics.