In Shakespeare-starved London even the good second-class offerings of his work by the Royal Shakespeare Company are to be welcomed, and so a warm greeting to the Much Ado About Nothing that arrived at the Aldwych last night.
When this Trevor Nunn production opened at Stratford last October, John Barber noted that it was strong in spectacle and horseplay and weak in wit and intelligence.
This remains true. Alan Howard's Benedick is gauche and Janet Suzman's Beatrice is boisterous. Their wit is not the result of highly-developed courtly sophistication, but a protection against their homely lack of self-confidence.
Helen Mirren's Hero is superficial, kittenish and touching and, opposite her, Bernard Lloyd's Claudio is vulnerable, inexperienced and unconvincing in his efforts to show the world a self-assured exterior.
Whatever damage all this may do to the early comedy of the play, it is a tremendous help to the later drama. I cannot remember a more moving church scene than was managed last night.
The characters, and particularly the marvellously sympathetic and humane Leonato of Sebastian Shaw, had by then taken on a reality which seemed more than a fair substitute for their normally brilliant artificiality.
Business was reduced to a minimum and far from provoking laughter, Beatrice's injunction to "kill Claudio" brought a lump to the throat. The ardour seemed justified.
The Dogberry of David Waller fits well into the scheme. He alone does not have doubts but is bloated with the misplaced vanity that enables him to talk nonsense with great sharpness and confidence.
I am not sure why Christopher Morley has chosen to enclose the proceedings in a kind of see-through oriental tea house, but this can be accepted and there is in general a nicely autumnal feel about his designs which contribute much to the romantic aura.
Incidentally, Janet Suzman, Alan Howard, Helen Mirren and Bernard Lloyd will be taking the speaking parts in the Prom performance of Berlioz's "Beatrice and Benedict" tomorrow. This Trevor Nunn production might well have struck a welcome chord for Berlioz.
Daily Telegraph, 30.7.69