The Notos Theatre Company of Athens' production of Much Ado About Nothing (on show at the Riverside Studios to kick off this year's Greece In Britain season) was a consistently impressive exercise, but too often demonstrated that cultural exchange can only do so much.
Of Shakespeare's major comedies, Much Ado is the one which relies most on words and least on visual or physical conceits. It is therefore a curious choice for a visiting Greek-language production, un-surtitled but with printed synopsis. Even those of us intimately familiar with the text found that, although we could follow the plot without difficulty, individual speeches, lines and gags largely passed us by. An exuberance of performance was required to match that of Elli Papageorgakopoulou's design – what looked like an empty, shallow swimming pool, a double bed in its centre surrounded by a field of lilies, and costumes which veered between 20th-century military and Elizabethan fetish wear. Unfortunately, for much of the first half director Thomas Moschopoulos and his company seemed to be playing things straight and efficiently but without the fizz that would have ridged the language gap.
Things began to shape up with the twin eavesdropping scenes, as Benedick (Kleon Grigoriadis) and Beatrice (Anna Mascha) are each allowed to overhear that the other is supposedly stark in love with them. Shortly afterwards, the bed-trick by which young Claudio is deceived into believing his betrothed Hero to be wanton was also beautifully staged (unlike the earlier masked ball, in which for some reason everyone was waving what appeared to be luminous avocados). In each case, Natalia Dragoumi's Margaret was delightfully, vivaciously vampish; I should have liked to see her play Beatrice.
Had I returned on another night, I might well have done so. Moschopoulos alternates his cast around three sets of roles each. This is, according to publicity material, intended to emphasise the role-playing of love and "the multiple interpretations that any given (love?) story may have." It's a fine idea from the company's point of view, but of course has no practical significance for an audience who on any given night will see only one set of interpretations. Similarly, the idea of segregating the audience – men on one side, women on the other – may make concrete the battle lines between the sexes, or it might simply have shown that among the Greeks and Greek-Britons who made up virtually all the first-night audience, women were marginally more likely to laugh at men being gormless and men at women being militant.
Notos are clearly an able and intelligent company, and one of whom it would be worth seeing more. However, Much Ado was not the crossover production as which it was presented, but more of a niche event wearing ill-fitting crossover clothes.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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