This summer has already seen a fine Much Ado About Nothing, with the overdue release of Joss Whedon’s film version. Marius von Mayenburg’s Schaubühne production of his own new translation is also preoccupied with the silver screen. Von Mayenburg, however, ranges far from the country-house rom-com territory of Shakespeare’s play, into every movie genre he can think of.
Leonato’s house in Messina is first seen as a pink-neon-lit nightclub, at which the military guests arrive, a Hawaiian motif takes over and a victory luau is held. From palm beach we move to jungle, as the “overheard” conversations fooling Beatrice and Benedick into loving each other take place on a big game hunt (with Benedick in full tiger costume), and thence to King Kong’s Skull Island, with its dinosaurs and a trick-photography movie of Hero’s alleged infidelity to her betrothed Claudio in which she appears to shag the Empire State Building. This wicked plot has been organised by the Nosferatu-looking Don John, hatched in what looks like an outtake from Plan Nine From Outer Space and reaches its evil fruition at a Munsters-style wedding. You get the picture? Hell, you get the entire film archive.
This is thanks to fine video work by Sébastien Dupouey, who multiplies Robert Beyer’s Don John onscreen for a dance of triumph that includes the only instance you may ever see of vampires engaging in synchronised nose-picking. It will surely not by now be a surprise to learn that the production also includes a dozen or so musical numbers, beginning with Kay Bartholomäus Schulze as Leonato crooning Leonard Cohen’s acerbic “Everybody Knows”. Despite these additions, the evening runs at less than two and a quarter hours without interval: von Mayenburg has cut the unfunny, malapropism-laden Watch scenes altogether and trimmed the remainder to enable its performance by a cast of seven.
This entails some curious doubling: Beyer plays both Don Pedro and Don John, and most intriguingly the maid Margaret becomes the drag alter ego of Leonato. Consequently Leonato has no excuse for not knowing that the accusation against Hero is false, and the absence of the Watch means that the truth is revealed with a perfunctory confession leaving as little apparently at stake as during the fancy-dress (and grass-skirts) party. Von Mayenburg certainly overplays his hand frequently, but the whole is such a good-natured piece of Regietheater that it is difficult for even a committed reactionary to condemn it altogether.