Interview with Floriane Andersen on Much Ado About Nothing: ‘In this time of Brexit and people fearing each other, this celebration of different cultures is very much needed. It shows that language is universal when it comes to emotions.’

London Student’s Sarah Gibbs exchanged questions with Floriane Andersen, who is currently starring in Antic Disposition’s production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at Gray’s Inn Hall. 

SG: Your acting credits include a variety of film, theatre, and television work, in both English and French. Can you tell me a bit more about your professional background?
FA: I trained in France and started out acting in TV and film in Paris. Stage came later. I was mainly working in France but was going back and forth to England to work on independent projects until I got the role of Katharine in Antic Disposition’s Henry V. Since then I have been working mainly in the UK, where I have become involved in more theatre and film work.

You portray Hero, daughter of Leonato and beloved of Claudio, in Antic Disposition’s production of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. What attracted you to the role?

The combination of comedy and drama in this play is brilliant. Hero first appears as very wise, then shows herself as very playful and full of life, but there are moments where you can see her heart is broken and fragile. There is a whole range of emotions that were really attractive to me as an actor. Also, she always stays true to herself.

In the play, Hero is accused of infidelity and must passionately defend her “maidenhood.” Do you think the value of virginity resonates with contemporary audiences in the manner Shakespeare intended? Did you discuss the piece’s sexual politics in light of present-day debates?
Nowadays it is not the value of virginity that is central to the play, but more the feeling of betrayal. It’s the deception that is at the heart of the plot, and everyone can relate to the feeling of being deceived by someone they love. If we think about the resolution of the play, Claudio asks for forgiveness and the directors made clear that they wanted Hero to be in a position of power in the last scene by choosing deliberately to forgive Claudio.

Antic Disposition’s adaptation is set in a French village in 1945. How does the post-war setting inflect your performance?

The directors wanted us to keep in mind that the whole country was celebrating at that time, and that, after so much darkness, people wanted to forget the horrors of the war and celebrate life. It was a happy time again and excitement was in the air.

Like the company’s staging of Henry V, Much Ado melds French and English elements. What do you think the bi-cultural references add to the piece?
In this time of Brexit and people fearing each other, this celebration of different cultures is very much needed. It shows that language is universal when it comes to emotions.

Floriane Andersen and Alexander Varey. Photograph: Scott Ryalnder.

Shakespeare’s plays are all about language. Did you have any trepidation about supplementing his famous words with song?

On the contrary – the songs add a sense of celebration. They create excitement and gather everyone around music and I think the song “Sigh No More,” written by Shakespeare, was used by the playwright to create this excitement.

The music draws inspiration from the work of the French comic actor Jacques Tati. Were you familiar with his films prior to taking on the role? Can you tell me more about the play’s music?

I was familiar with Jacques Tati’s work. I saw many of his films when I was young. The music reflects a very specific period of time and brings a bit of nostalgia. You really feel like you are in a middle of a French town square having a glass of rosé in a café.

Did the knowledge that you would be performing in cathedrals affect the approach to staging, or your character development? Does the grandeur of the venue offer something unique for a relationship comedy?
It was certainly a bigger challenge to play a comedy in cathedrals. We had to adapt the staging to narrow spaces and be mindful that they were places of worship. The character development was pretty similar. Some scenes particularly fitted the venue in terms of acoustic and drama.

Along with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado about Nothing is Shakespeare’s most frequently staged comedy. Why do you think we keep returning to the work?
Much Ado About Nothing is a very modern play. It’s one of the first romantic comedies and it hasn’t aged in the sense that we can still relate to these kinds of dynamics in relationships. The way Beatrice and Benedick talk to each other is very modern. It’s highly entertaining and still relevant to this day.

Many thanks to Floriane for taking the time to answer our questions and to Suzie Jacobs from Chloe Nelkin Consulting PR for organising.  Much Ado About Nothing can be caught at Gray’s Inn Hall until the 1st September, 2018.

Feature photograph: Scott Ryalnder.

Sarah Gibbs is a graduate student pursuing a PhD in English Literature at University College London (UCL). Her writing has appeared in Descant, Filling Station, and Novelty magazines.

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