London Review: Much Ado About Nothing

One of the things that I enjoyed most during my trip to London was attending the live stage play Much Ado About Nothing at the Wyndham Theater, starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

In a word: Brilliant.

The experience was wonderful from start to finish. The interior of the Wyndham Theater is gorgeous and it was fun just to sit in the stalls and look around the theater before the play began. The walls, the private boxes, and the ceiling were works of art with gorgeous plaster work and paintings. It’s a small intimate theater, which made the lovely scenery that much more enjoyable.

Hands down, Much Ado About Nothing was one hell of a show. My husband and I attended the performance on August 16, 2011, which featured several understudies whose names I failed to catch at the time since the announcement was made moments before the curtain lifted. When the manager appeared on stage, dressed in his suit and tie and looking awfully dour, the audience went deathly silent as he announced that several understudies would be in tonight’s performance. As soon as the understudies names were announced, none of which were Tennant’s or Tate’s, a palpable sigh of relief echoed through the theater. Moments later, the play began with Catherine Tate lying on a lounge chair and reading a book.

This updated version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece embraces the modern world, exporting the story from the writer’s time into a contemporary setting with dancing, golf carts, and rock music. With a rotating stage, moving columns, and a cabana like backdrop, the atmosphere was warm and inviting. The perfect setting for a romantic comedy.

Much Ado About Nothing is a story about two young lovers whose pending marriage is put in crisis and contrasted against the mischievous planning of several friends who have conspired to bring together two lovers who claim staunch resistance to marriage and to each other–and yet they are a perfect match.

Both Tennant and Tate have a wonderful stage presence that extends beyond the boards, bringing in the entire audience. When neither Tate or Tennant is one stage, you do miss them. However, several members of the supporting cast did a fantastic job of continuing the action of the play without losing a beat. The most notable were Adam James (playing Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon), Jonathan Coy (playing Leonato, Governor of Messina), and John Ramm (playing Dogberry, Master Constable).

Adapting stories for new audiences and updating them to reflect current times can be a tricky business, especially when you’re dealing with one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces. There is always the danger of the adaptation going horribly wrong. However, when you’re dealing with a well-conceived adaptation–which has been updated in a way that enhances the story’s strengths by drawing upon it’s best parts, and then you throw in a powerhouse cast–you are going to get a play that comes off at the top of its class.

It was no great surprise that David Tennant and Catherine Tate would both give excellent performances. Their ease and comfort with each other was noticeable immediately, building on their past working relationship in the Doctor Who Series without ever bringing those character onto the stage with them. The scenes in which Benedict (Tennant) “overhears” that Beatrice (Tate) is in love with him and Beatrice overhears that Benedict is in love with her are brilliant among the best. Tennant’s delivery is hilarious and flawless. The combination of slapstick comedy and top notch acting had the audience roaring with laugher. I think Mr. Shakespeare himself would have been exceedingly pleased with both of those scenes.

One of the most remarkable things about watching a play featuring actors who know how to command an audience is that you tend to forget that you’re watching a play. They draw you into the action and emotion of the story with an ease that is shocking. In the second half, when Benedict (Tennant) confronts the Prince and Claudio, Tennent’s performance sparkled. You could feel the emotion and anger flowing from him at the injustice served to young Hero (Claudio’s fiance). When watching a play, it can be difficult to suspend your disbelief and to fall into the story, but with performances like this, it’s almost impossible not to let go and get lost in the action.

The way that Tennant and Tate played with each other on stage and the knowing glances they exchanged with the audience, stripped away the barriers between player, stage and audience, bringing all of us together into an intimate experience that was made of perfection. All in all, it was a wonderful performance and one not to be missed.

When the curtain closed the audience cheered and cheered, giving the actors a standing ovation. It was a spectacular performance.

Afterward, we headed outside to the stage door to see Tennant and Tate as they came outside to give autographs. Brilliant actors. Brilliant people. Brilliant time.

~

From the Wynham Theater’s Website:

This summer, David Tennant and Catherine Tate appear together on stage for the first time in a brand new production of William Shakespeare’s timeless comedy Much Ado About Nothing.

Two young lovers, Claudio and Hero, are to be married imminently but the devious scheming of a resentful Prince looks set to thwart the nuptials.  Meanwhile, marriage seems inconceivable for reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick whose endless witty sparring threatens to keep them apart forever.

Directed by Josie Rourke, Artistic Director of the Bush Theatre, Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s great plays and reminds us all of the failings and triumphs of the human condition in our never ending search for perfect love.

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