David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing. For a Doctor Who and Shakespeare fan (who rates Ten/Donna as the best Doctor/companion pairing since the ’70s and Much Ado as one of the three first division comedies) what could hold more promise?
It’s a very lively, funny production, and I enjoyed it hugely. Tennant and Tate are both outstanding comics as well as actors (Tennant’s comic timing was just what the Doctor needed, and it is often overlooked just how fine an actor Tate is). Thus, being the Tate and Tennant show was both the productions great strength, and its weakness. They played up the comedy, supplemented by some elaborate slapstick, perhaps at the expense of some of the drama. That’s not to say the key moments weren’t dramatic (Tate’s delivery on “kill Claudio” was chilling) but they seemed a little bit detached. Perhaps there was too little chemistry with the rest of the cast (it would have been hard to guess, without the dialogue, that Hero was Beatrice’s roommate, making her contract on Claudio seem a little eccentric). Tate was superb, however; her social and emotional detachment otherwise played perfectly and underlined by a well staged sequence of her drinking and dancing alone at the party.
The slapstick did seem to gain a life of its own, though, and the staging of the sequence in which Benedict is being set up was hugely overcomplicated by an unnecessary gag with some paint whilst the revolve was turning, making maintaining his eavesdropping whilst preserving sight-lines within the timing of his speeches very clumsy. And The Watch almost always seem to feel the need to add in “business” (is that Ben Elton’s fault?) which is a shame, because Dogberry gets some lines that are funny in their own right. Boom.
All the emphasis on comedy meant that when things darken there is too little shift in tone, and too late. It almost seems to swing too far: suggesting Claudio contemplating suicide was presumably an attempt to deal with his unsympathetic behaviour, but it only makes it worse, portraying him as weak and cowardly too. It’s a hard part which is rarely played right: but I am inclined to agree with one of the friends I went with that the best performance of the role was by a student who played in a college production with us.
I’m probably being overcritical because the RSC’s superb production with Tasmin Greig an absolutely peerless Beatrice was so recently (or not? Can it really be five years ago?) And that’s unfair because I enjoyed every minute of this production; its energy, its good humour, its massive sense of fun and the stellar performances of its two leads. The Gibraltar setting and the 1980s vibe was very effective in injecting a high-spirited zestiness; and at the heart of the play is the interplay between the two comedy leads, so as a vehicle for Tate and Tennant it would be hard to find a better choice.