Thursday, 18 August 2011

Theatre Review - Much Ado About Nothing.

Performance Date: 11th August 2011.
Venue: Wyndham’s Theatre, London.

Script by: William Shakespeare.
Directed by: Josie Rourke.
Starring: David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Adam James, Tom Bateman, Jonathan Coy, Elliot Levey, Sarah Macrae.

The eighties may be the current go-to decade for a nice fat slice of depression, but it’s nice to see the party atmosphere of those ten years embraced in Rourke’s production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

For those who don’t know the story, the action picks up with the return of Don Pedro (Adam James) from a victorious battle, alongside Benedict (David Tennant) and Claudio (Tom Bateman). Upon their arrival, Claudio plans to marry Hero (Sarah Macrae), daughter of Leonato (Jonathan Coy), and Benedick is reunited with his verbal jousting partner, Beatrice (Catherine Tate). With some help from Don Pedro, Claudio and Hero are soon betrothed to one another, and amongst the wedding preparations, it is planned that Benedick and Beatrice will be forced into realising their love for each other. Of course, this being Shakespeare, all is not destined to go to plan, as the “plain-dealing” Don John (Elliot Levey) schemes to break up Claudio and Hero.

The action takes place atop a giant turntable, complete with four movable pillars and numerous pieces of set dressing (such as chairs, DJ decks, etc) brought on and off when scenes demanded them. The sheer number of different positions that the pillars are placed in to create the necessary locations are astounding, and the revolving stage means that set changes can be performed with minimal effort, as well as perform small sequences of action while the turntable rotates into place. This turntable is also used to great effect in Act 2 Scene 3, where Benedick ‘eavesdrops’ on Leonato, Don Pedro and Claudio’s conversation, adding both depth to the stage as well as the illusion that the three are chasing Benedick through a much bigger space than they actually are. It is because of this unique staging, combined with the eighties tone, that the play has a real sense of atmosphere and setting.

Tennant and Tate share excellent chemistry on stage, playing their characters as two old friends who are perfectly comfortable insulting each other while at the same time knowing they won’t cause any great offence to each other - everyone knows a pair of friends like this, making their relationship something real and relatable to the audience. Tennant, who has shown his comedic side in both Doctor Who and previous stage production Hamlet, really turns the humour up to eleven, and though Tate does on occasion fall back on traits from characters in her own TV sketch show, she is enough at home in this world to make the character of Beatrice her own, and capable of turning from hilarious to tense during Act 4 Scene 1. Of the other performances, the one which stands out is Adam James’ Don Pedro, who really brings the character to life, in particular when interacting with Bateman. He is a joy to watch, as are the rest of the cast, including those taking up smaller roles such as Dogberry and Borachio, as played by John Ramm and Alex Beckett respectively.

Finally, it is worth taking note of Michael Bruce’s score. The music used within scenes is distinctive of the period setting, often sampling from well known eighties pop, yet still feels fresh and original. This makes a striking contrast to that found during scene changes, which is often more tranquil and fitting to the action the audience has just seen. It is a treat for the ears, and shows just how important music is for helping set the correct atmosphere for a production.

In short, Much Ado About Nothing is a triumphant, well-performed piece of theatre that is well worth seeing - provided you can afford the hefty ticket price, that is! The cast work in great harmony, and the entire show is a tightly-run production.

Rating: 9/10.

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