Thursday, 18 July 2013

Much Ado

I went to see the Bard in the Botanics production of Much Ado About Nothing last night. It's no secret by now, as the play near the end of its run, to say this version contains a big twist. In this adaptation, Beatrice, one half of one of the pair of lovers at the centre of the play, is turned into Bertram.

The play was fantastic - BiTB productions unfailingly are - and I love seeing Shakespeare. I've got a thing for men speaking the lines. I blame seeing Baz Luhrman's R&J at a formative age. By the time I left the park, I'd got a thing for every male player in the cast. Pathetic, but enjoyable.

But what really affected me was seeing the relationship played out between soldier Benedick and reluctant lover Bertram. The script, as far as I could tell, changed only the name Beatrice to Bertram, and all mentions of "niece" to "nephew".

With the character originally written as female, there was no doubt that this relationship was feasible, valid, and encouraged. The play's central device of getting the denying lovers to admit their affections (essentially a big overheard game of "my mate fancies you") was fantastically played, and elderly father and uncle Leonato's line of marriage encouragement and blessings was particularly simple and powerful:

"Well nephew, I hope to one day see you fitted with a husband."
As in all Shakespearean comedies, there's a lot of scampering and witty flirtation. Lots of wordplay - particularly between Bertram and Benedick as the comedic heart of the play. The look of lust, disdain and upset between the actors, as in all good versions of Shakespeare, could make your stomach flip.

What made the biggest impression was the equality. That sounds ridiculous, right? But seeing same sex relationships represented on a properly equal footing - characters were allowed to flirt, were no more tortured or tragic than anyone else, endured no troublesome realisations (other than that they were in love), "woo'd" openly, and with encouragement -  made an impression that I'm still dealing with a day later.

I felt surprised in a way I hadn't expected to. It reminded me how far we still have to go.

Until it's not even remarked upon when people enter into a same-sex relationship, openly, and with the support of family and friends, then maybe we're there. When kids don't get bullied into pieces for showing even the smallest inclination towards folk of their own sex - maybe we're there. When no heads snap round as two people of the same sex walk past them holding hands, maybe.

I know the official word is heteronormative. But it took a tear-jerkingly good adaptation of a bloody Shakespeare play to help me understand what the opposite of that would mean.

It felt all the more important given that yesterday was when the Queen signed into law the equal marriage act into law in England and Wales. I live in Scotland, but most of my friends are in England. I was already feeling pretty happy for a friend and his partner, who had sworn not to get civilly partnered - they would get married when everyone could, or not at all. The state permitting these small personal victories seemed unthinkable even a decade ago.

At my great aunt's funeral, sometime around 2001, there were two older gents, and lifelong friends of my nan. They'd been together since it was illegal. But at the funeral of their great friend, they knew that the sight of them together, upset, perhaps holding hands, would be too much for others there to take. They reassured my cousin that they would stand discreetly at the back. This upset me at the time, and still does now.

In Much Ado, the marriage is the culmination - the ending - as with any Shakespearean comedy. But yesterday, watching the play, I felt that marriage was just a beginning.

My will is, your good will
May stand with ours, this day to be conjoin'd
In the state of honourable marriage

All images taken from the Bard In the Botanics Facebook page

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