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Doing Much with “Much Ado”

August 27, 2012

Maybe it’s strange to write in English about a Dutch translation of an English play, but I write in English here and I write what I know, and that’s about all the explanation I have for this post. A few months ago, I read that a theater company in Utrecht, De Utrechtse Spelen, would be putting on a Dutch version of “Much Ado About Nothing,” titled “Veel gedoe om niks,” in collaboration with Dutch jazz band New Cool Collective. A few weeks later I told my father I was meaning to go, but too busy with my thesis and a bit put off by the steep ticket prices (48 euros) and the translation having been done by someone I didn’t know. After I successfully defended my thesis a week and a half ago (WOO! Say hello to this Master of Arts), my father told me he’d buy me two tickets to celebrate. So, last Wednesday, a friend and I hopped on a train to Utrecht and were whirled away to what I can only describe as a fantastic Shakespearean party.

We decided to put any fears of the translation aside before we went in, because it was quickly becoming clear that this particular rendition would not be about the words, but about reinterpreting and bringing alive the titular “much ado.” This was confirmed by our arrival at the theater, where we first had our picture taken on the red carpet and were then handed masks.

After ordering a beer to drink while we waited for the show to start and buying tokens for drinks that could be bought inside the theater itself, we sat on the terrace for a bit, looking at our fellow theater-goers and enjoying the fact that almost everyone had dressed up for the occasion: the women in dresses, skirts, nice blouses, the men in slacks and button-down shirts.

Upon our admittance to the theater, we were baffled to see just how much (re)construction had taken place. The ground floor chairs and the stage itself had been removed and in their place we found a white, round stage outfitted for the band in the middle of the room and a walkway running along three walls and up to the balcony. Many of the actors were already in the room and mingling with the “guests; Leonato himself came over to welcome us to his home and we had a little chat with Margaret, who we were happy to later learn was given a much bigger role and a much happier ending.

I won’t go into detail about the show itself, because there’s just too much to say and I would go on forever, but I’ll share a couple of the things I really loved with you. Firstly, Arthur Japin, who brought a delicious level of silver fox-ness to Don John and whose reinterpreted relationship with Conrachio gave his character some much needed (and appreciated) depth. Secondly, Sanne Vogel, who presented a Hero who was bubbly and naive, but never annoying in the way Hero is often portrayed. She’s one of my least favorite Shakespearean characters, yet I fully enjoyed her in this version. Then Audrey Bolder, whose Margaret was sassy and sexy and vulnerable and wonderful. (Oh my god, I’m going to shout out every single actor at this rate). Jeroen de Man and Susan Visser, who were Benedick and Beatrice, both played wonderfully (and flirtily – yes, I know that’s not a word) and made me forget (albeit temporarily) about my favorite Benedick and Beatrice: David Tennant and Catherine Tate. Benedick’s shout-out to my friends rose-print dress was also much appreciated. The New Cool Collective, meanwhile, put on a fantastic show with finger-snapping good music.

The director, the company, and the band all took a tremendous risk in putting on the play like this. The high level of audience interaction, the accessibility of the stage to the audience, the action which sometimes took place out of sight of certain members of the audience (on the dance floor, turned one way on the center stage), the all-encompassing presence of music even when actors were speaking, all of this could have all blown up in their faces. The fact that it didn’t is cause for all the commendation in the world. During the more-than-three-hour show, I did not see a single person who wasn’t enjoying themselves to the extreme. People were whooping and hollering, dancing and clapping. When Benedick and Beatrice first kissed, cheers went up from the audience, and by the final number a beautiful older lady was dancing around the stage with a blissful look on her face.

We were both the audience of and participants in a spectacle of the purest form and I enjoyed every minute of it. By the end of the night my cheeks were hurting from all the smiling. I had hardly noticed the translation, partially because I know many of the words by heart in English, but also because – to a degree – it did not matter because the heart of “Much Ado” had been successfully portrayed through the music, the acting, and the aforementioned spectacle.

I’d recommend this play to anyone, even people who don’t speak Dutch (as long as they’re sufficiently familiar with “Much Ado” in another language). Though the ticket price may be a bit of a hurdle, I would argue it’s worth it; after all, you get 3.5 hours of entertainment from a complete theater company AND a complete jazz band (plus a free program!). If you’re young and really can’t cough up this money, CJP also has a couple of deals for card holders the next few weeks. Our economic times are not conducive to the consumption and experience of culture, but they are also not conducive to the production of new, exciting projects. That De Utrechtse Spelen threw caution to the wind is therefore extra special – and extra in need of our support.

While the political theater is raging (I have the prime ministers debate on in the background as I write this) and no one I know has any idea who to vote for or what direction we’re being swept into, why not throw all of that aside for an evening and get caught up in a spectacle which is actually enjoyable? I promise you, it’ll be worth it.

“Veel gedoe om niks” will be playing in Utrecht until September 8th.

(And in conclusion, an extra shout-out to my father, without whom my friend and I would have never attended what we dubbed “the best party of our lives” as we walked to the bus after the show that night. And a shout-out to the actor in the giraffe mask who, during the masked ball, kept me so entertained with his attempts to drink beer through his mask that I almost forgot the pay attention to Benedick’s monologue. You’re a true thespian, whoever you are.)

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Luitgard permalink
    August 27, 2012 6:44 pm

    Wow! this sounds great!
    I’ll definitely try to get a ticket, maybe I can get your father to join me…
    Thanks Nanna, a very inspiring blog once again..

    • August 27, 2012 9:58 pm

      Thanks, tante! I’m pretty sure even Hannah would enjoy it (though it ends a bit late for school nights). Lots of dancing!

  2. Luitgard permalink
    August 27, 2012 6:48 pm

    probably because of this blog, the playing will continue till 21 September 😉

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