Tamara and I booked to see Much Ado About Nothing, being put on by the National Theatre and beamed to our local Picturehouse cinema. It was Tamara’s idea and I was happy to go along with it. I feared that the comedy would be insubstantial, but in fact it is much weightier than say ‘Taming Of The Shrew’ that we saw recently. And it was well acted and the set design was terrific.
Meanwhile, this afternoon, Queen Elizabeth II died.
Tamara and I were late to arrive at the cinema, and when we walked into Screen 1, everyone was silent, as were the audience at the National Theatre in London who were on the screen. We realised that someone at the London venue had asked for silence to acknowledge the passing of the Queen. Then the National Anthem was played and people in the cinema stood up. Tamara and I were standing already because we had just walked in, and we hadn’t yet gone to our seats.
Then a man at the London venue spoke and said that the show would go on. And we expected the show to begin more or less straight away. But that didn’t happen. Instead the curtain with the words Much Ado About Nothing filled the screen and there was no sound. And it just went on and on. It was eerie, as though it was echoing the breakdown in the smooth flow of things. So we all sat in silence, just watching this curtain remind us that is was Much Ado About Nothing.
I was thinking that after three million years of evolution we still do not know what death is, or at the absolute least one can say there is no consensus about what it is.
And I was thinking of the living. How will the country deal with the event? Britain is faced with the worst civil discontent for a generation. People talk openly about the cost of living crisis. If you know the British you know that they do not talk about money and how tight it is and how bad things are – not in public, between strangers. But they are doing now. It is not taboo. Rather, it has become a part of the public discourse. That’s how bad things are.
Post Office Workers, Royal Mail workers, Rail workers, Legal Aid barristers – they are all staging strikes for better pay and conditions.
We have a new Prime Minister who is there because the last one was kicked out.
The pound is at its lowest value in a generation.
So how will the country react to the death of the Queen? Will it draw people together or will it be one more event that leads to the break in the ties that keep civil society intact?
So here we are in the play, near the end. In a moment Claudio will find out that Hero, his beloved, is not dead and everything will end happily.
Except the link to the National Theatre broke at that moment, and the last we see before the screen goes blank, is Claudio’s hand open, waiting, frozen.
The audience sits, waiting to see whether the link can be restored (it cannot), and there is a strange and patient mood in the air, and behind it all, the death of Queen Elizabeth II.