Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Dr Who stars justify the much ado


With stars as luminous as David Tennant and Catherine Tate playing Benedick and Beatrice, two of the Bard's funniest lovers, and with director Josie Rourke, determined to prove her crowd-pleasing credentials, this fast-moving, alcohol-fuelled production justifies all the ado it has generated.

The setting is not Messina, but Gibraltar after the Falkland's War. Rourke could have done a better job in establishing these crucial facts. The wardrobe is undeniably '80s; the pop music indisputably naff, and apart from Tate's slouchy dungaree outfit à la Bananarama, the shoulder pads and hair styles are disconcertingly aggressive. But there is little beyond the Thatcher mask in the masked ball scene to suggest the political backdrop. Without the programme notes I might never have known.

The drive to stage this Tennant and Tate show reportedly came from the actors themselves, so much did they enjoy each other's company when Tate played the time traveller's sidekick, Donna Noble, in Doctor Who. The challenge here was to convince in the very different roles of two not-so-young antagonistic suitors whose love for each other - expressed only in barbed brickbats - is recognised by everyone but them.

It is brave of Tate to take on her first Shakespearean role opposite one of the country's most accomplished classical actors. Shakespeare's language comes as easily to Tennant as his Scottish brogue. And while Tate's delivery is conspicuously slower and altogether more deliberate, she shores up her performance with an intimidating contempt. It is a wonder those withering stares do not shatter the mirrored Raybans worn by the characteristically dazzling Tennant. He can turn cynicism into a touching sentimentality in the blink of an eye, and often does.

But even Tennant cannot redress the imbalance in a production that goes for laughs much more than it does the emotions. The eavesdropping scenes are each a superbly choreographed tour de force. One results in Benedick somehow smothering himself in decorator's paint, the other with Beatrice somehow hanging by her trousers from a wire.

Rourke, meanwhile, skilfully inserts modern contexts for contemporary audiences. Don John's (a dastardly Elliot Levey) subplot conspiracy, which ruins Hero (Sarah MacRae) and Claudio's (Tom Bateman) wedding, is sprung during the couple's stag and hen nights, complete with strutting strippers.

This is fast and furious Shakespeare who, with a little help from the very famous Tennant and Tate, is proving to be one of the most popular nights out in London.

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