David Tennant

Much Ado About Nothing

04/04/20

Digital Theatre

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 

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Mary Queen of Scots

18/01/19

The Tudors are common parlance Chez B&B these days; since downloading the Six The Musical soundtrack, we’ve barely listened to anything else. Of course, this new film is a very different beast, but it does share a few key players, and our recently-discovered interest in the period makes us extra keen to see what’s on offer here.

What Mary Queen Of Scots has in common with Six is its telling of ‘herstory,’ with female experiences placed firmly and unapologetically in the spotlight. The perspectives belong to the women. Not just because they’re the main characters, but because the directors (Josie Rourke and Lucy Moss respectively) are women too, and so everything is reflected through this – sadly still unusual – prism.

Saoirse Ronan is Mary, and she’s every bit as impressive as you’d expect this extraordinary young actor to be. She’s strong and commanding, warm and vulnerable: the heart and heroine of this tale. Margot Robbie, as Mary’s English cousin and counterpart, has arguably the harder role: Elizabeth is less likeable, and burdened with the fact that (spoiler alert!) she has Mary imprisoned and then killed. But Robbie is more than equal to the task, imbuing the English queen with both formidable resolve and an unexpected frailty. The parallels between the two women – and the tragedy that they can not be allies – are central to the film.

The brutality of the era is clearly evoked, with bloody murders a-plenty. Thankfully, there are no extended battle sequences here (I’m a little weary of them); instead, the skirmishes are short and definitive, the armies as small as I suppose they really must have been, the power-grabs and politicking as baffling and depressing as they remain to this day.

The men might be peripheral, but they’re played with panache by such stalwarts as David Tennant (virtually unidentifable as John Knox, with his strange hat and straggly beard), Jack Lowden (as the loathsome, weak-willed Henry Darley) and Guy Pearce (playing William Cecil, chief advisor to his Neighbours stablemate, Robbie). The structural power bias is evident in the way these men succeed in out-manouevring even the redoubtable Mary, and in Elizabeth’s cannier recognition that the only way she can retain her position is by disavowing her gender, and surrendering her happiness.

A fascinating film, and – if the sold-out screening we’re at is anything to go by – one that is likely to do well. Mind you, we are in Edinburgh. And Mary is the Queen of Scots.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

What We Did On Our Holiday

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4/10/14

On paper, this looked rather promising. Created by the writing team that brought us Outnumbered, it seemed to belong in that same tried-and-tested arena of harassed parents vs precocious children. Doug (David Tennant) and Abi (Rosamund Pike) are taking their three young kids up to the Scottish Highlands to visit Granddad Gordie (Billy Connolly) to celebrate his birthday, but nothing here is as straightforward as it might appear. Doug and Abi have actually separated after his infidelity with one of his students, while Granddad Gordie isn’t going to be celebrating any more birthdays, as he’s suffering from terminal cancer. So rather than upset him, everyone (kids included) is told to pretend that it’s business as usual.

The film starts well, following the established Outnumbered formula, as the two parents struggle to control their fractious offspring in a variety of picturesque locations on the long drive up to Scotland and there are plenty of laughs, expertly mined. But all too soon they arrive at their destination and we are introduced to Granddad Gordie, who unfortunately turns out to be one of those all-wise creations who wander around spouting lines that would be better placed on a series of novelty fridge magnets. On the morning of the birthday bash (an overly elaborate and expensive affair orchestrated by Doug’s pompous brother, Gavin (Ben Miller) and his depressive wife, Agnes (Amelia Bulmore), Gordie decides to take the three kids on a fishing trip and at this point, the story takes an abrupt left turn into much darker (and it has to be said, faintly unbelievable) territory. The three children take centre stage and matters aren’t helped one jot by the fact that they are considerably less appealing than their TV counterparts – the little girl in particular is profoundly irritating.

Having served up a mostly laughter-free middle section, the writers decide that what we really need to round things off is a syrupy, optimistic conclusion, which they duly deliver complete with a cliff top Highland Fling at sunset. This is a pity, because the film promised so much in its first half hour, that the dismal ending somehow rings even more hollow. Though there are decent performances from most of the adult actors, this can only count as a missed opportunity.

1.8 stars

Philip Caveney