Some great performances but some significant missteps

Much Ado About Nothing shares my top spot of Shakespeare plays with Henry V so coupling this sparkling comedy with some of my favourite actors was very eagerly awaited. In some ways I was delighted but in others disappointed.

David Tennant’s performance matched up to his wonted high standards and I had no problem with the post-Falklands War Gibraltar update. I thoroughly enjoyed the often overlooked Adam James as Don Pedro who, for me, was the cream of the generally good supporting cast. The music was catchy and perfect for the early 80s setting and the revolving staging created some really interesting exchanges between foreground and background.

Catherine Tate, as expected, played Beatrice’s snarky wit incredibly well but there were many occasions when I wanted a little more betrayal of the defensive nature of her wit. These two have history together, as is shown when Beatrice says of losing the heart of Signor Benedick:

Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one: marry, once before he won it of me with false dice, therefore your grace may well say I have lost it. (2.1.252–255)

Instead sometimes the vocal sparring came across as who could outwit whom purely for the sake of winning but with no deeper meaning.

Given the above I would have rated it 8/10 but there were a few awful missteps by director Josie Rourke which pulled it down for me. The whole piece seemed to be played for farce at the expense of many other considerations. Beatrice overhearing Hero tell of Benedick’s love for her was completely overwhelmed by the ridiculous spectacle of Catherine Tate suspended on a rope above the stage! The consequent audience laughter drowned out the dialogue to such an extent that it was impossible to hear what was being said. Later, Beatrice descends into incongruous teenage histrionics over Benedick declared love when only moments ago she was supposedly heartbroken over the public humiliation and ruin of her cousin. Shakespeare plays, regardless of their categorisation, are never just comedies or just tragedies, there’s always a little of both in every one – it’s what makes them so good – so to have these really jarring comedic inserts into what should have been moments of high drama and pathos serves only to throw off the intended mood of the scene and to cheapen it. And then there is Claudio’s attempted suicide! In a production that couldn’t get through the “Kill Claudio” scene without introducing juvenile humour this was so out of left field as to be dizzying!

Notwithstanding all of this though, if this production sparks a love for the wonderful body of work of William Shakespeare then I’ll forgive the directorial misdemeanours with this proviso: there are better versions of this amazing play (Kenneth Branagh’s sumptuous 1993 romp, for example) so go and seek them out!

This review appears on the Internet Movie Database.