It’s the casting that initially draws us to this one. I mean, David Tennant and Catherine Tate? In a Shakespeare comedy? Intriguing, right? And here it is on Digital Theatre, filmed live at the Wyndham, London, in 2011, the perfect choice for a locked-in Saturday night.
Robert Delamere’s production cannily sets the antics in 1980s Gibraltar. Post Falklands war, there’s a celebratory air about the place with swaggering white-uniformed naval officers coming ashore to interact with the sun bathing locals. Claudio (Tom Bateman) has his sights set on Hero (Sarah McRae), whom he wishes to marry, but fellow officer Benedick (Tennant), a proud bachelor boy, is insistent that he will never ever go down the marriage path. He and the equally sarcastic Beatrice (Tate) already have a well established enmity towards each other, but when Benedick’s friends set up a scheme to convince him that Beatrice is secretly smitten by him, the couple’s adversarial history goes straight out of the window and something suspiciously like true love begins to bloom…
Much Ado About Nothing is a Shakespeare play I barely know – and let’s be honest, on the page his comedies can come across as a bit on the dull side. So this is something of a revelation – indeed, it has to be one of the funniest adaptations of the bard I can remember seeing. Most of the laughs are generated by the caustic interplay between Benedick and Beatrice – and even if Tate occasionally looks as though she’s about to ask Tennant if she’s bovvered, I have to admit that she handles her role with consummate skill. Tennant too, is superb, his comic timing impeccable.
But it’s more than just a double act. The design is spectacular, with the regular use of a revolving stage showing us the action from a continually changing perspective. The scene where Benedick spies on his gossiping friends whilst becoming messily entangled with a decorating table is just inspired, and Beatrice too gets a similar scene where, caught up on a workman’s harness, she is hauled into the air, flailing helplessly around while her co-stars struggle to make themselves heard over the audience’s laughter.
I also love the masked disco, where the play’s characters, dressed as various 80s celebrities – Adam Ant, India Jones, Miss Piggy! – dance around,, occasionally breaking off into little huddles to further develop the story. And yes, the story is a bewilderingly frivolous one, with characters playing complicated tricks on each other for no convincing reason, but it hardly matters. Two hours and forty one minutes whizz by like magic.
This is a superb slice of comic theatre that should please ardent Shakespearos and the lead couple’s sizeable fan bases alike. Interested parties will find it at digitaltheatre.com