As you may already know, the whole purpose of the London saga was to see David Tennant in Much Ado about Nothing. I talked about the astonishing karma I experienced there but didn’t say much about the play itself. Here is the review.
I’ll admit right off that I’m not a Shakespearean expert. I didn’t study him in school, have not seen all his plays and cannot tell which quarto should have been included or not. The intrinsic discovery of the Bard didn’t occur until my late 30s when my mind clicked with both the language and the plots and I acquired a better appreciation through live performance rather than dry text. I vaguely remember the film version with Kenneth Branaugh so there’s no comparison being made in this review.
The action was set in 1980’s Gibraltar with Don Pedro (and his men stationed there including Benedick (David Tennant). Beatrice (Catherine Tate) was the niece of Governor Don Leonato (Jonathon Coy). The production solved the issue of how to get uber famous Tennant on the stage by having him drive on honking a golf cart festooned in Union Jacks. The comedy was slapstick and wrung for the most laughs it could get including a fancy dress disco ball with Tennant dressed in black fishnet stockings and a mini skirt, and swinging Tate in the air from a harness. It also got surprisingly raunchy with a stag party blow up doll and stand up sex in an alley.
For those who don’t know Much Ado: Beatrice and Benedick, confirmed cynical bachelors, are duped into believing they are in love with each other. Their story runs parallel to that of Claudio and Hero who have a more traditional courtship. This is against the backdrop of political intrigue between brothers Don Pedro and Don Leonato.
Tennant was fantastically cynical, funny and smitten with Beatrice. He was clearly at home with Shakespeare and during the scene where he’s tricked into thinking Beatrice was in love with him, he played directly to the audience for all it was worth. There clearly were Doctor Who (Tennant played the 10 Doctor, aka the Lonely God) fans during the evening performance; when Tennant uttered the line “I’ll be like a god!” the audience laughed and groaned. He played that for all it was worth, breaking character for a moment, “Not that god!” His scene contained much slapstick and tomfoolery but he smoothly pulled it off with panache, leaving the audience gasping with laughter. Too bad his duping scene preceded Tate’s because by the time she’s dangling from the ceiling in a painter’s harness, it just wasn’t as funny. Ironic for a woman whose profession is comedic acting.
Tate was very humorous in her funny scenes but somehow missed the mark when poignancy and wistfulness were required. She mostly appeared distant and sarcastic until she heard that Benedick was in love with her. Tate also had difficulty during the scene where they acknowledged their love and she suddenly ordered Benedick to “Kill Claudio!” This scene required an almost instant transitional moment between hilarity and deadly seriousness which Tate didn’t hit consistently during the two performances I saw. That’s not to say Tate didn’t hold her own; it’s that it was apparent to me she was not the same acting caliber as Tennant. I can honestly say this without bias. Had Tennant turned in less than a stellar performance, I certainly would point it out. I believe in saying the emperor has no clothes, if necessary, even about my crushes.
The rest of the cast was quite good with Claudio and Hero (newcomers Tom Bateman and Sarah Macrae). Don John (Elliot Levey) was more of a cardboard villain than a flawed individual which might have been a mistake in characterization. The cast breakout was Dogberry (John Ramm) played as a very funny bumbling Rambo type.
Overall, it was an excellent but flawed production staged by Josie Rourke. Since I can’t recall Branaugh’s version, I can’t say whether it favorably compared. However, I can say that this adaption worked for me. I enjoyed it and found the trip worth it.