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Much Ado About Nothing starring Catherine Tate and David Tennant – blogger Alasdair Stuart has seen it…

I used to be awful at maths. I mean sweaty palms, shakes, panic attacks awful at maths. I got good at it due to the patience of about five teachers and one author; William Shakespeare. You see, Shakespeare plays can be plotted as mathematical constructs pretty well. Everyone alive at the end gets married, everyone dead usually has a partner who’s dead too. No remainders, hence good maths, right?

Much Ado About Nothing is very good maths. It’s also huge fun. Did you like Mamma Mia ? It’s okay, you can tell me, I’ll even go first.

I’ve seen it three times.


It’s one of those movies that just makes me smile and I know it took more money than The Dark Knight and I know that chaps a lot of people’s lips and you know what? Let them eat chapstick. It makes me smile and Pierce Brosnan sings heroically badly and the entire thing is attacked with such extraordinary verve and gusto that I find it impossible not to be charmed. Also, Stellan Skarsgard, a man who once played a Viking chieftain, attempts to sing whilst being pursued across a rooftop by Julie Walters. Only in the movies.

Much Ado About Nothing is Shakespeare for people who liked Mamma Mia . But here’s the science bit; Much Ado About Nothing is ALSO Shakespeare for people who hated Mamma Mia . You see it’s got all the same plot elements; mathematically precise weddings, beautiful location, love and misunderstanding and songs (more on those in a sec) but it also has the greatest “Joker becomes badass” moment in fiction and Catherine Tate, dressed as a Blues Brother, dancing with David Tennant in drag.

The production, currently playing at the Wyndham Theatre in Leicester Square does two blisteringly smart things. The first is setting it on Gibraltar in the 1980s and re casting the Don and his men as the command staff of a Royal Navy ship on furlough; and the second is the use of songs. The entire performance is shot through with everything from ’80s power rock to dance, a little bit of metal and a stunningly effective piece of gothery that closes the first act in a very dark place. What really flies though is that these songs are all songs Shakespeare wrote, some of which have been transferred in from other plays. The end result is a play that works like a transmission vector, carrying the words and their meaning into a very relatable, very modern context. It’s, frankly, nothing short of brilliant and this willingness to use the setting to transfer meaning is reflected in brilliant, Morecambe and Wise-esque moments of humour and a masked ball that sees Indiana Jones sharing stage space with Michael Jackson and a Blues Brother.

The second smart decision it makes is casting Tennant and Tate. They’re a superb double act, funny the second they’re on stage together without having to say anything. Tennant’s Benedick is a gangly, cynical, intelligent buffoon with a vastly over-inflated sense of his own self importance. He’s brilliant and he knows it and, of course, there’s a flash of the Doctor here but Tennant tempers that with his clear love for the script and his own accent. Benedick’s a clown and in, one scene, a genuinely terrifying presence but he’s also an individual. This isn’t the Doctor lite, this is a man who is rapidly carving a name for himself as one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of his time in full flow.

Tate is his equal and more. It’s really that simple. If Tennant is one of the great Shakespearean actors of his day, Tate is one of the great comedic Shakespearean actresses. Everything is arch, everything is delivered with precision and grace and the moments where Beatrice goes all girly are all the funnier for that. She’s in control right up until she isn’t and then, like Benedick, she’s giddy, and giggly and desperately in love. Also, like Benedick she has one of the best dramatic moments n the play, a two-word line which silenced the audience utterly. Tate’s stunningly good and both of them deserve every plaudit they get for their work here.

Special attention should also be paid to Tom Bateman, fresh out of LAMDA, as Claudio – he brings exactly the right level of youthful innocence and ever so slightly hateful impulsiveness to the role. Jonathan Coy likewise brings real weight and authority to Leonato whilst Adam James, Kudos’s go-to guy for oily yuppie villains in Hustle and Ashes To Ashes , is fantastic as the Don. His scene with Beatrice, where his marriage proposal is taken as a joke is one of the best in the play. Tate’s humour and horror as she realises what she’s done drags the audience along with her whilst James plays the Don perfectly, a good man, a great man, but too good, too distanced from his life to be a part of Beatrice’s. John Ramm is also great as Dogberry, the Sergeant of the watch transformed here into a Rambo -obsessed, highly excitable and very funny survivalist.

Much Ado About Nothing is Shakespeare as it should be, not some dry intellectual spectacle but a chimera that changes and adapts to its time. It’s a rom com with swords, a musical with verse, a love letter to a decade that doesn’t deserve one but here, feels like it does. It’s brilliant, plain and simple, and if you get the chance, you need to see it.

This is a personal article by blogger Alasdair Stuart – for more from our volunteer bloggers click here .

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