Much Ado about… Nothing, Byron, The Weeknd and playing Cupid

20 Sep

EAT: Everyone under the sun has done a review about Byron, except me. This is because I don’t think it really warrants my time, as there’s not a huge amount I can say that hasn’t been said before.

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Well… maybe there is. What has been said before is, usually, lavish praise of their burgers. Someone needs to actually say, bluntly, their burgers aren’t anything special. They’re… well… ‘nice’. The chicken isn’t tough but it’s not succulent. The brioche buns I buy from ASDA are tastier than the ones they use and the salad and sauce which accompany the burger tastes good, but not as good as most other places I have reviewed. I do like their courgette fries – but I think that’s simply because not THAT many other places do courgette fries. Once they do, I’m sure they’ll be beaten and Byron’s offering will, once again, be simply ‘nice’ (until then, DO go and try them, very yummy and you can pretend they’re really healthy too….)

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If you need a quick bite that’s available in numerous places across London, then sure. Go to Byron. However, if you’re able to travel somewhere specific and you want to still spend less than a tenner on a burger, then there are a huge number of other places in London which do far better (Patty and Bun or Lucky Chip at Sliders Bar for example). Basic summary for Byron: not bad, but you can get far better for your money if you hunt a little harder.

SEE: Much Ado about Nothing is my favourite Shakespeare play. It’s witty, dramatic with in-fighting, true love, true hate and more. The older I get the more I become like Beatrice, the female protagonist.

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So, when I caught wind of the fact The Old Vic has seats going for £11 to see Much Ado (directed by Mark Rylance), I snapped them up. More importantly, I snapped them up because the cast list is incredible, and interesting, to say the least. Vanessa Redgrave plays Beatrice and her amazing stage and screen experience and talent has seen her proclaimed by Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams to be “the greatest living actress of our times”. James Earl Jones plays Benedick (the male protagonist) – another incredible actor with more experience than any actor could possibly hope for.

With Redgrave now aged 76 and Jones at a not-so-sprightly 82 years old, obviously their age has been a big topic of conversation. Can a play with such passion, dramatic scenes and a love story be successfully portrayed by older actors? With the vast majority of the audience being younger than the two leads, can the audience identify with Redgrave and Jones playing out Beatrice and Benedick’s love story?

It pains me to say, with two such wonderful actors in the spotlight, that the answer is no. Their stage presence is severely affected by their age (well, Redgrave fares significantly better than Jones to be fair). When Benedick confronts Claudio, the dramatic nature of the scene simply cannot be communicated because Jones can’t move around the stage quickly or project his voice forcefully. Redgrave has more of a spring in her step, and Beatrice’s witty remarks are delivered more clearly and sharply than Jones delivers Benedick’s quips. However, it is a sad fact that when a play requires movement (dancing, confrontation, sneaking around) that age is obviously going to affect the performance. It didn’t help that Jones forgot his lines towards the end (bless him, the fact he’s 86 years old and able to remember even half the play is outstanding, but if you’re on stage you have to totally nail it).

The set is, essentially, a brown structure which never changes and isn’t used particularly cleverly throughout the play. Much Ado is a play full of life and drama, humour and romance, and a stark brown stage does nothing to bring this to life. The play is set in Britain at the end of world War II, but this is no excuse for the odd set.

Rylance’s obviously had a lot to take into consideration when staging the play with regards to the seniority of the two leads, but far more could have been done to give the play the sparkle it deserves.  The most hilarious parts of the play raised no more than a chuckle from me because the scenes felt… well, lifeless. When Benedict overhears Don Pedro declaring how in love Beatrice is with him, in other products I have been laughing so hard I was on the verge of tears (the RSC version featuring Tazmin Greig back in 2006 has me in stitches). However, this time around the physical humour from Benedick sneaking around is missing and Benedick’s rationalisation for suddenly admitting his love for Beatrice doesn’t invoke the laughs it should. The final line in the scene “When I said I’d die a bachelor, I just had no idea I’d live this long” falls flat and lacks the gusto that the character of Benedick needs.

Dogberry (played by Peter Wright) delivers most of the laughs, but it is not enough to make up for underwhelming lack of comedy throughout the rest of the play. Other supporting actors fare ok, but there are few stand-out moments and certainly no stand-out performances: none of the support actors deserve any special mention really. The talent that Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones possess is not under question: their ability to perform as Beatrice and Benedick due to their seniority, however, is.

LISTEN: The Weeknd is back with Kiss Land, his first full-length album, released on a major label. So how has the shift from independence to label changed The Weeknd? Well, his previous EPs were a little more varied – songs like Loft Music, Birds Part I and The Party After the After Party, to me, all sounds very different. Sure, they’re stamped with The Weeknd’s signature smooth vocals, sexual content and alternative, dark R&B sound, but he’s trying something different with each and everyone one of them.

All the tracks on Kiss Land are similar – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it seems Abel Tefsaye has found what he likes and he’s sticking to it. The vocals, sexual tension and Drake-esque dark, rhythmic music are all present, so he’s doing what he did best. The tracks are all good, but one is better than the others and that’s Belong to the World. My favourite tracks by The Weeknd are driving and pulsing, full of sexual tension (Loft Music) or edgy and dark, with plenty of atmosphere (Montreal for example) and Belong to the World ticks both of those boxes. Give it a listen.

LOVE: As I’ve previously said, Much Ado About Nothing is one of my favourite plays, simply due to the dynamic and hilarity that ensues between Beatrice and Benedick. But what always fascinates me about the play is that it picked up on something so common in human nature: tell someone a person likes them and you plant the seed. You suddenly start thinking about them. You’re SO aware of them when they’re nearby. This can sometimes build to you anticipating seeing them and before you know it, there they are, at the forefront of your mind. Simply because someone told you they had a thing for you.

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Now, in part this may be because everyone plays it so coy, you need a third party to let you know when someone actually likes you. Fair enough. But the point I am making is when you never thought about a person to start with: why is it once you know they’re interested do you suddenly become interest too? Is it because you’re desperate, just looking for anyone who’ll say yes? Is it because you never considered them before – perhaps you subconsciously thought they were out of your league?

Personally I think it’s because your eyes are opened to someone who, for some reason or another, was never on your radar before. Once they’re on your radar, you take the time to learn about them. Talk to them. Look at them. And, hey presto, you find out that they’re a nice person which makes them attractive to you. It’s certainly happened to me before. A guy I’d never given a second thought to who, who lives with a friend of mine, apparently told her he thought I was hot. Once she’d told me this, I actually spent time talking to him and noticing him. Turns out, he’s quite attractive and a cool, nice guy (well, ok, I ended up hooking up with him a  few times, it was hardly an epic romance, but I would never have known that if she hadn’t have prompted me to find out more. Score.


Thing is, I really want to try out the Much Ado about Nothing ‘effect’. I want to get two people I know, who are vaguely in the same friendship circle, and tell each of them the other likes them. I guarantee, in many cases, something sparks. It may just be a friendship, casual sex, a relationship… but a wheel of some sort will set in motion. Obviously they both need to be single and roughly in each others league, goes without saying, I can’t work total magic after all.

Anyway – if you’ve ever done this, or if this has happened to you, let me know!

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