Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Much Ado About... Nothing Much

Much Ado About Nothing is possibly my favourite Shakespeare play, and numerous amazing performances have graced the West End, with Tamsin Greig, Simon Russell Beale (known affectionately within my family as simply SRB) and Zoe Wanamaker among the starry names.
THIS one had the dangerous duo David Tennant and Catherine Tate having a crack at the unwilling lovers; and they, frankly, rocked my socks in Doctor Who. Their escapades together as the Doctor and Donna were truly fun and exciting and they worked like a dream. Naturally the Wyndhams theatre hoped to re-spark the chemistry...
But, oh, had they but talked to a Whovian before heading into the fray! Because it is well know within this geeky but gleeful group (of whom I am proud to be one) that after the emotional car crash that was Rose Tyler's departure, and the terrible unrequited love that Martha Jones harboured for the Doctor for so long, Donna was the first assistant since Doctor Who's rebirth who DID NOT FANCY THE DOCTOR. Donna was having none of it; she wanted adventure, not courtship! She and the Doctor shared a relationship closer to that of siblings than that of a couple, and I liked her all the more for it. I'm a sucker for Mr. Tennant; a friend confided that during Much Ado, she genuinely struggled not to shout out 'I love you David!' during quiet moments, and, though I'm not as vocal about it, I entirely agree with the sentiment expressed.
So, as hard as Tennant and Tate may try, their chemistry is not of quite the right stock. It works superbly when there is witty sparring and jocular banter; the final scene in which they deny any feelings for each other and then find their 'own hands against (their) hearts' in the form of 2 love letters was brilliant, but in the more romantic and emotional scenes, something lacked.
Tennant, being RSC trained and having executed a much complimented Hamlet 2 years ago, was a nigh-on perfect Benedick; he captured the boisterous, uproarious joker wonderfully and then went on to show us all the subtle nuances of his character falling unexpectedly in love. Tate was on top form during the comedic scenes (not a single hint of Lauren 'perpetually un-bovvered' Cooper anywhere) but she lacked the necessary emotion during pivotal scenes. Humour was ruthlessly injected into the scene where Beatrice and Benedick first admit mutual love, and it shouldn't have been there! Tate nearly went full on slapstick which ended up completely undermining a beautiful line; 'I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.' And all just to get a laugh. Grrrr.
The rest of the cast didn't gel as an ensemble either, despite some nice performances from Adam James (Don Pedro), Elliot Levey (Don John) and, even with limited lines, Kathryn Hunt as Ursula. Sarah MacRae as distressed, virginal herione Hero did nothing but annoy me; she was flat and uninspiring. Admittedly Hero is a bad part, but, honestly, do something more with it. The marvellous rotating set was clever without being complicated or off-putting, and it really came into it's own during Tennant's hiding scene ('See you where Benedick hath hid himself?' 'O, very well, my lord...'). 1980's Gibraltar makes a fabulous substitute for Messina with it's decadence, glamour, and, of course, returning soldiers.
If you are a Shakespeare purist, or with limited theatre dosh, don't go. You will, unfortunately, come out disappointed and feeling as though you have wasted your time; it doesn't live up to the hype. However, if you are up for seeing Tennant give a fab performance, Tate show us her considerable comedic talent, and a good-looking production, please, go. It leans more towards the 'oh-Lord-Shakespeare-is-so-hard-to-get-through' end of Shakespeare (as opposed to the 'AH-that-was-amazing-and-it-was-Shakespeare-too!' end), and that is all down to it as an ensemble; the weakness of the rest of the cast means that essentially David Tennant carries it.
And if your a Whovian, of course go. Look who's in it, for pete's sake.

West End Girl x


  1. Spot on. People are coming to enjoy David Tenant, and to a lesser extent Catherine Tate...he's good, she's out of her depth. But judging by the audience's reactions it doesn't really matter. The beauty of this sort production is that it attracts people who wouldn't normally go into any theatre, let alone to see some Shakespeare. That's its strength, and a good thing too.

  2. I much prefer to see plays like this without 'celeb' actors. I would rather see the masters in action or the amateurs take it seriously. but NB is right about it opening up Shakesspeare to a new audience, a very good thing. Nice review. Look forward to more.

  3. Luckily for us, some of the celeb actors are also masters of their art! Thanks to both of you for commenting.