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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
at Wyndham’s

ANYTHING FOR A LAUGH
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  David Tennant and Catherine Tate/ Ph: Johan Persson

I have never seen a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing in which the audience seemed programmed for indiscriminate laughter from the moment they walked into the theater until the moment they walked out.
 
This, of course, has everything to do with the pairing of Dr Who’s David Tennant and Catherine Tate, who, in Josie Rourke’s self-consciously rollicking production, milk the bantering Benedick and Beatrice for every guffaw they possibly can. From the very outset, the sparring couple goes for broke not only on every line Shakespeare gives them, but every syllable as well. Funny voices and facial expressions aren’t exactly in short supply, either.
 
Even when laughter isn’t called for – as in the heart-stopping moment when Beatrice demands that Benedick “kill Claudio” after he abandons his bride to be, Hero, at the alter, the audience (at least on the night I was there) fell about laughing.
 
This cannot be right. In Shaeskepare’s play of two distinct halves there’s time for frivolity and time for solemnity, and Rourke’s take on it, updated to the 1980s and set in a naval base in Gibraltar, too often blurs the contours in its dogged, anything-goes determination to have a laugh.
 
And while Tennant, who makes his first appearance in a golf trolley dressed in navy whites and dark glasses, is an obvious crowd-pleaser, a little less mugging and gallery playing might give his comic turn an added dimension. A case of less being more.
 
Subtlety isn’t exactly Tate’s strong point either. She also believes in the anything-for-a-laugh school of comedy, and Rourke’s direction clearly encourages this.
 
The twin scenes – and the comic highlight of the play – in which both Beatrice and Benedick fall prey to a ruse in which they “accidentally” overhear a conversation that leads them to believe each is in love with the other, are two of the funniest scenes Shakespeare ever wrote. But they’re so broadly and implausibly staged - with Tennant covered in white paint and Tate covered by a decorator’s sheet while being harnessed upwards – they play like silent-screen slapstick.
 
And while updating the action to the permissive 1980s is a shrewd commercial maneuver, allowing for a more contemporary music track as well as a pre-nuptial party whose appurtenances include a sex doll and a sailor stripogram – not to mention some raunchy sex action – it makes no sense whatever in the context of a play whose dramatic fulcrum pivots on whether or not Claudio’s intended bride Hero is a chaste virgin.
 
On a more affirmative note, there are excellent performances from Tom Bateman as Claudio, Sarah Macrae as Hero, John Ramm as Master Constable Dogberry and, best of all, Jonathan Coy as Hero’s father Leonato. 
 
This is certainly not the best Much Ado you’ll ever see – but it’s well geared to the West End in general and fans of its two stars in particular. Notch it up as a commercial success but an artistic failure.
 


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