Theatrical interpretations of Much Ado About Nothing have ranged from minimalist stagings like Edward Gordon Craig’s 1903 touring production through to the extravagant, pictorial grandeur of Henry Irving’s in 1882 which also toured in Britain and America, running for a record 212 consecutive performances. Irving employed over 600 people for his production and, in line with Victorian theatrical traditions, placed heavy emphasis on spectacle. The church scene was the crowning glory of the production. Percy Fitzgerald noted ‘the art displayed here, the combination of “built up” scenery with “cloths”, the rich harmonious tintings, the ecclesiastical details, the metal-work, altars, etc. made an exquisite picture’. The stage picture was itself the subject of a picture, and later an engraving of the scene by Forbes-Robertson who played Claudio. Actors entered to the resonant tones of the organ and represented a large group of clerics carrying censers and candles and wedding guests in addition to the protagonists. Fitzgerald argued that the state and publicity of the scene, the crowds and rich dresses and ecclesiastical robes, brought out ‘the “distressful” character of such a trial for a young bride’ (Fitzgerald, 1893, 193). Some critics were less complimentary, arguing that only the excellent acting of the principals and the ensemble managed to rescue the show from being ‘over-weighted with upholstery and wardrobe’ (Sunday Times, 15 October 1882).
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