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#151 Much Ado About Nothing at Wyndhams Theatre

July 8, 2011

Hero's fateful wedding, in all its sun-kissed 80s glory. Note the Princess Di-flavoured wedding dress. Hella sleeves.

Next up: Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s famous comedy set on the Algarve in the 1980s. That’s right – if you hadn’t already heard, this West End production, starring ex-Doctor Who duo David Tennant and Catherine Tate, has been given a pastel Judith Chalmers theme. You expect hapless Keith Barron to stumble on stage at any moment. To be honest, the setting works as well as it needs to: this is a story of a largely self-contained world of the officer class, so it might as well be all balmy and ex-pat. You’d need to be a curmudgeonly bastard to complain about it. (So here goes…)

There’s an even stronger and more cynical influence on this version’s theme. Wedding confusion in the Mediterranean, with a poptastic soundtrack? This is Much Ado About Mamma Mia, basically. It can’t have been a hard pitch to make, mimicking the moves of such a big hit. But credit where credit’s due; it works. Just. All Shakespeare’s plaintive love-songs become pastiches of 80s hits, including a clever-ish take on Bonnie Tyler’s I Need A Hero. Because Hero is the love-crossed fiancée, of course. Do you see what they did there, hey? Yah-hah.

Throw in some schtick with a Rubik’s Cube, a masked ball with every 80s celeb costume you can think of (Thriller, check; Indiana Jones, check; Super Mario – eh? Um, check), white suits and Wayfarers out the wazoo, and you’ve got a decent enough pile of nonsense to frame the witty lovers’ antics. Chuck in a hen and stag night (complete with PG-rated strippers) and Tennant in a miniskirt, and it’s no surprise the audience shrieked and laughed all the way to the happy ending.

A boozy holiday atmosphere infuses this tale of the two sharp-tongued adversaries Beatrice and Benedick, caught in the middle of a love crisis. The first twenty minutes seemed dangerously airless, but then the good-time vibe kicked in and the actors flung out their barbs with relish. While Tennant is clearly loving his time in front of the footlights, milking every line, Tate seems a tiny bit lost. Saddled with less corkers than Benedick, her Beatrice gets more laughs from her physical comedy than from laser-guided wit. Which is sad, because it’s not like she can’t act. She just spends too much of her time here whizzing around, flapping her hands and screeching. It’s all good fun Catherine Tate™ stuff, but it doesn’t add up to a great interpretation. More gallingly, there’s no physical spark between them. Often, it’s enough to make you yearn for the fixed-grin, note-perfect Ken and Em film version (apart from shitty old Michael Keaton, spewing out unintelligible readings and making everyone feel embarrassed for Ben Elton.)

Anyway, if this isn’t exactly RSC calibre, it’s a great fun night out, and a bold and blowsy take on the play. No, the leads can’t really shake their inherited Doctor-and-companion vibe, but with this much effort at merriment, nobody’s going to come away unhappy. It’s as good as a week in Monaco. Well, the Costa del Sol, anyway…

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