Friday, 26 August 2011

Much Ado About Nothing

I know not how to pray your patience, yet I must speak. I must tell you of the great performance of Much Ado About Nothing that is reaching the end of its run in the great theatre of Wyndham. Fear not dear friends I shall not attempt to write this review in the Shakespeare tongue. I dare not. 

Simon Hattenstone write in his about David Tennant, in his article, that his favourite part of the show was Tannent’s ear to ear grin as he keeps coming out for another curtain call and another standing ovation. I can’t blame him, Tennant’s grin and the genuine happiness behind it are most infectious and it doesn't leave him throughout the show. 

Much Ado About Nothing is my favourite Shakespeare comedy and probably my favourite comedy, of all time, by anyone. It is of course a classic and has become the model upon which many great romantic comedies are based on. I have read this play many times and it still amazes me.

The nature of Much Ado About Nothing, and I guess the brilliance of Shakespeare, allows for different kinds of interpretations to the text. One of the most famous adaptation of the play is Kenneth Branagh’s wonderful film. Branagh gives the play a slightly more dramatic tone which colours Benedick and Beatrice's relationship in a different colour, slightly closer perhaps to the relationship between Claudio and Hero.

The director of this revival of Much Ado About Nothing, Josie Rourke, took the play in a different direction and turned the comedy up to 11. Set in the marry 80s in post Falklands victory's Gibraltar, this version is sexy, poppy and mostly cheerful and happy, which injects the play with freshness and originality.  

Much Ado is famously very verbal. The main comedy of it is in the brilliant and witty banter between Benedick and Beatrice and of course the nonsensical Dogberry and his watch. Rourke added a strong physical comedy element, which not only works surprisingly well alongside the verbal comedy, but it actually compliments it. From the very hilarious entrance of Benedick, wonderfully played by David Tennant, on a golf cart and an even funnier exit, through a sexy Tennant in drags with a lovely 80s dance routine, in which both Tate and Tennant make some nice moves, to the climax of the physical comedy with Catherine Tate being flown up in the air, desperate to get down as she hears Hero and Ursula talk of Benedick’s love for her.

Weird as it may sound all of this and more adds something even more wonderful to this already wonderful play. I think it especially works well as Benedick comes out from hiding covered in paint, which he spilled all over himself when he heard Beatrice is in love with him. He goes on to do his monologue in which extremely excited he announces "I shall be horribly in love with her!" His paint covered expression is so charming in it's child like enthusiasm. Further more when Beatrice comes, against her will, to bid him "come in to dinner" her already disgruntlement expression becomes priceless as she sees him covered with paint smiling at her like an idiot, scaring her more than anything else. 

The physical comedy is only a part of the whole visual aspect of this performance. The set, which is made out of four pillars, is constantly rotating. Choreographed with the cast’s movement across it, this makes for a very dynamic and flowing feel to the play and pushes it forward with drive. Apart from the clever use of the rotating set during the scene in which Benedick eavesdrops on Claudio, Leonato and the prince, as the set rotates between scenes, it also allows glimpses of moments never written in the original play. For example, Borachio showing Margaret to Don John the bastard, while she is sleeping, Beatrice and Benedick’s glances as they pass by each other on the way to the hen/stag does for the first time after they each heard how the other is madly in love with them. There are many more such small details and glimpses that add so much without words.

The dominance of the comedy and the visual in this production doesn't mean that the serious side of this play is neglected. I shall now have to gush for a few paragraphs about the wonderful performances, mainly by David Tennant and Catherine Tate but the rest of the cast as well. 

Yeah... nobody can see you there.
David Tennant portrays Benedick’s transformation from the idiot clown to the man worthy of such a woman as Beatrice fantastically. He switches, like Tate, from comedy to drama with an extraordinary talent. In one scene he confesses his love for Beatrice and he is so happy and it is exciting and you want him to jump and kiss her, but a moment later when Beatrice asks him to kill Claudio the torment on his face as he says “not for the wide world” has cause the guy sitting next to me, who I discovered later never read the play, to gasp and blurt “oh no!” He suddenly seems taller, which makes him huge next to Tate, and manlier. I most enjoyed seeing this kind of transformation on stage.

I had no doubt that Catherine Tate would make a brilliant Beatrice. I recently found out that she wanted to play her for a very long time, and wanted Tennant as her Benedick before she even met him. It made me even happier to discover that they were the ones who initiated and asked to do this play together and not that they were cast as a gimmick. 

Though I expected nothing less from Catherine Tate, who I am a big fan of for a long time, I was still taken aback by just how she owned Beatrice. Emma Thompson’s Beatrice says at the opening scene “You always end with a jade’s trick, I know you for old” to herself and with disappointment in her voice as if she wishes Benedick will grow up already. Catherine Tate’s Beatrice says the same sentence directly to Benedick as if saying “you can’t fool me, I know you.”

One of my favourite moments in Tate’s performance is when she rejects the prince. At first she makes a joke about it, because joking is what she does with everyone,  but as she realises the prince wasn’t joking panic takes over and Tate is absolutely charming as she changes her tone and body language apologising to the prince “but I beseech your grace pardon me, I was born to speak all mirth and not matter” I felt for her almost more than I felt for the prince, who has just been rejected. 

Catherine Tate's Beatrice is confident and happy. Her past with Benedick stayed in the past and her shock of finding out about Benedick's feelings for her is as big as his.

Don John. Portrayed by the excellent Elliott Levey, becomes a socially awkward closeted gay, who is not even a very good at being a “plain dealing villain.”He's comical timing and delivery were excellent and added another level of comedy to the play, that I personally never saw before.

Instead of bringing the drama out of Benedick and Beatrice's relationship, Rourke brings out the comedy within the over the top dramatic love story of Hero and Claudio. Sarah Macrae is very good as the over frenzied bride wearing a Diana like dress and barking at her maids, and Tom Bateman is lovely as a Claudio that often looks more like a child than Benedick.

Antonio, Leonato’s brother in the original play, becomes his wife Imogene, which makes Hero’s humiliation have a stronger impact on the family as a whole, and it also solves my own personal query regarding Beatrice's father[1].

Rourke added a scene in which Claudio, grief stricken, thinking he killed Hero after he falsely accusing her of misbehaving, is trying to commit suicide and stopped by a vision of Hero. I was quite happy to see that scene. I always felt that Claudio and the prince got off to easily in the play, Claudio in particular. He is so easily manipulated, first he is lead to believe the prince is trying to steal Hero from him and then again the same man makes him believe she is disloyal. Seriously dude! It was nice to see that at least Rourke let Claudio’s conscious torment him a little bit more than Shakespeare did in the original play.

Much Ado about Nothing finishes on September 1st. You simply must try and catch it if you can. Every day between 10 and 10.30 the Wyndham theatre draw 20 best seats tickets for £10. I won four times now. This show is so great that much like David Tennant on his curtain calls I can’t stop grinning ever since.    

[1] In the original play there is no mention of Beatrice’s family. Since she is Leonato’s niece, but doesn’t seem to be Antonio’s daughter, it is assumed that there was a third brother who died. Either that or she’s a gatecrasher  


  1. Great review. I too really liked when Tate rejected the Prince, that was wonderfully underplayed. And as you may have guessed, I loved Tennant splashing paint all over himself!

  2. :D Thanks! Oh yes David Tennant covered with paint is definitely a keeper.