TNT theatre Britain presents

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Paul Stebbings
Original score composed by Paul Flush

Don Pedro – the Prince      David Chittenden
Beatrice          Natalia Campbell
Benedick         Richard Ede
Claudio               Gareth  Fordred
Hero          Rebecca Naylor
Leonato               Richard Clodfelter

Other roles played by the ensemble
Director                Paul Stebbings
Musical director         Paul Flush
Costume design         Juliane Kasprzik
Choreographer         Eric Tessier Lavigne
Set design & construction      Arno Scholz
Lighting and tour management    Richard Clodfelter
Production assistant                 Monika Ondockova
TNT dramaturg         Phil Smith
Producer                    Grantly Marshall

The China Tour of TNT Theatre UK is presented by
Milky Way Arts & Communications Co. Ltd

PAUL STEBBINGS is artistic director of TNT theatre Britain and The American Drama Group Europe. He was born in Nottingham and studied drama at Bristol University, where he received first class honours.  He trained in the Grotowski method with TRIPLE ACTION THEATRE in Britain and Poland. Paul founded TNT theatre in 1980 and received regular Arts Council funding for work in the UK. Paul has also acted for NOTTINGHAM PLAYHOUSE and TNT and directed and written for the SHANGHAI DRAMATIC ARTS CENTRE,  TEATRO TERRUNO Costa Rica, PARAGON ENSEMBLE Glasgow, TAMS THEATER Munich, the ST PETERSBURG STATE COMEDY THEATRE, and the Athens Concert Hall MEGARON. His productions have toured to over thirty  countries worldwide. Festival appearances include  WIZARD OF JAZZ at the Munich Biennale (critics prize), the Off Broadway Festival in New York, the Tehran Fajr Festival  the Tokyo International Festival, and award winning performances at the Edinburgh Festival (THE MURDER OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, in which he played the title role).  His numerous productions for ADGE and TNT include MACBETH, BRAVE NEW WORLD, MOON PALACE (a dance drama version of Paul Auster’s contemporary novel) DEATH OF A SALESMAN, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. OTHELLO  and the recent prize winning HAMLET. One of Paul´s main areas of interest is the integration of music and theatre which culminated in his large scale production of  production of MOBY DICK. He has directed productions in Russian, Greek, German and is increasingly working in Spanish, while in spring he directed THE TAMING OF THE SHREW in Mandarin at Shanghai’s leading  theatre (SDAC). This season sees Paul direct premiers of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, THE HOUSE OF BERNADA ALBA (in Spanish) and  DAVID COPPERFIELD, plus revivals of  MACBETH, DEATH OF A SALESMAN , ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, ONE LANGUAGE MANY VOICES ( an exploration of Britain’s colonial legacy),and A CHRISTMAS CAROL. These varied productions tour to over thirty countries on four continents  performing in cities as diverse as Beijing, Jerusalem, Prague, Tokyo, Brisbane, London and Berlin.

Director’s Notes

Much Ado About Nothing throws down a challenge to the audience with its very title.  What is this play? A comedy that is not always funny? A tragedy with a happy ending? A thriller even? Or is it a masque: that strange mix between symbolic drama and  dance theatre that was to overwhelm English theatre a few years after Shakespeare’s death.  I think the answer is yes to all these questions – MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING defies categorisation but at the same time it reveals Shakespeare’s genius. We are used to thinking that tragedy is more profound than comedy, but Shakespeare balanced  the comic with the tragic,  he knew that profoundest truths are often revealed through laughter – which is a human emotion than no animal can express – whereas sorrow is not so unique. Shakespeare knew that tragedy is enhanced by comedy and vica versa. It is perhaps that  presence of comedy in his tragedies that takes them to the peak of human achievement; for surely the gravedigger in HAMLET, the Fool in KING LEAR and the Porter in MACBETH are essential to these iconic masterpieces. The later Shakespeare abandons tragedy altogether, surely believing that tragic-comedy is the most perfect mirror of the  human condition.  MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is part of a long tradition of dark English humour that starts with Chaucer and continues to this day – Dickens, Wilde, Charlie Chaplin and Beckett all contributed to the genre and Beckett’s  famous line: “Fail, try again, fail better” is clearly related to the glorious title of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.  Love and life are never darker than when they are held to be nothing.

Our approach to the play is to try and explore its extremes, not to flatten it by making its conflicting moods and fast changing values into one harmonious whole. This is a baroque masterpiece not a social documentary or romantic comedy. Shakespeare alerts us to this with his setting (or lack of it).  It seems Don Pedro is Spanish,  Claudio is Italian,  while Dogberry and maybe Beatrice are clearly English. Hero seems to  be lifted from  the classics and to behave as such, (that is from the poems of “Hero and Leander” etc). There is a battle but no one gets hurt. There is an evil villain but he disappears half way through the play. There are whole scenes where nothing actually happens – such as the brilliant scene where Dogberry’s Watch fail to tell Leonato of the evil plot.   So our approach has been to let all these elements co-exist as Shakespeare probably intended. We have not sunk to the easy director’s trick of setting the play in a consistent time and place – why is this so popular? This play is clearly not set anywhere. We accept this in Baroque painting why not in theatre? And here is a key – the classical world offered the Baroque artist an alternative universe. So our approach is to embrace the baroque, with all its exaggerations and super-realism. This allows the play to breathe (we feel) and allows us to be grotesque – a key word for TNT theatre – and we think for Shakespeare.  Besides, the Baroque was entertainment, a release from Christian art and a lot of fun. This is a comedy where the audience is supposed to laugh.

Surveillance, tricks, deceits and lies are not just part of the fabric of Messina (as they are in Elsinore) – they are relished. They are almost the only way that this society works. Nothing can be believed that is not first overheard. Nothing is real unless it is discovered by spying. What is spoken openly is usually a lie or a trick. Even the “good” figures inhabit this world and relish its conventions:  for example Hero and the Friar. This is not an accident or a game, it is how Messina  functions. It therefore seems to us that this secretive and deceitful behaviour must be heightened and dramatised. In doing so we try to expose the folly that Shakespeare  was aiming at with his dark comedy.  MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is a claustrophobic drama. Beatrice is the great rebel, a woman who openly speaks her mind in a (corrupt) man’s world and expects to be left on the shelf for her pains. Her greatest moment is her command to Benedick to “kill Claudio”. Because at that instant she sees through  the pretence and asks in two plain words for justice in an unjust land. Benedick has to change, not so much because he responds to Beatrice as a lover but because he responds to Beatrice as a rebel who insists on plain truth and justice. When he denies his old bachelor self  little is at stake, but when he challenges his old friend to a duel to the death the stakes are high and the denial of his former self far greater. But Shakespeare twists the plot and lets Benedick off the hook.  It is the stupidest of all, Dogberry and his Watchmen, who unravel the evil and bring justice. Harmony prevails and even Don John is caught and punished.  Has anything been learnt or was it all truly Much Ado About Nothing? This is the glory of Shakespeare’s great comedies: it is for the audience to decide. Tragedies have closure (or catharsis). These dark comedies touch us because they resonate and ask us if all our petty cares and  self-deceptions are much ado about very little.