27 July 2011

Much Ado About Nothing at Wyndham's Theatre

The obvious draw for Much Ado About Nothing was the pairing of David Tennant and Catherine Tate as the reluctant lovers Benedick and Beatrice.

This was reflected in the long queues for the merchandise and the number of small children dragged along for the evening.

I had other reasons for going. After a heavy run of his late plays at the National Theatre around twenty five years ago my diet of Shakespeare had been a little thin and a top-up was welcome. I had not seen this play before. And there was a cheap ticket deal through work!

As usual, I'd paid scant attention to reviews beforehand so apart from some idea that it was a modern setting my preconceptions were minimal.

The modern setting soon revealed itself to be mostly about new clothes.

The dialogue was refreshingly Shakespearean though I suspect there were a few minor changes along the way, mostly additional exclamations of the "Hey. Ho." type by Catherine Tate.

Keeping to the original script was a big plus for me but soon lost some of the children who had probably never heard many of the old words before let alone encountered them strung together in lyrical prose.

Most of the play was left untouched too with the rich humour coming from the dialogue and the plot from overheard conversations.

The big change were the addition of some slapstick scenes. Two of these were when Benedick and then Beatrice try to listening to conversations. Benedict has a series of accidents with paint left behind by decorators and Beatrice got hoist in to the air by the wires they were using to reach the high places.

These scenes had the whole audience cavorted in riotous laughter in a way that would make the best pantomime jealous.

But while the slapstick might have been a useful prop for those unfamiliar with Shakespeare (or even theatre) it was not really necessary as the whole play was genuinely funny. Laugh out loud funny.

The whole cast contributed to this. Several of them were recognisable from various tv programmes (don't ask me which) and while the two stars drew most of the attention they could not have shone without everybody else supporting them magnificently.

And the stars did shine. David Tennant was the more convincing as the love-sick Benedict who is easily led by others but Catherine Tate was also strong playing Beatrice as one of her sassy characters, much as she did with Donna in Dr Who. David Tennant simply did more acting.

This was a near faultless production and while some purists may object to the modern setting or the additional slapstick those criticisms would be a matter of taste rather than an objective view of the performance.

This was a highly enjoyable show and is as good as this sort of theatre gets. Much Ado About Nothing is really something.

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