It's been coming a LONG while and was the cause of my giddiness both at the time of booking and over the past week. Yes: finally, the collective got to see Much Ado About Nothing starring Catherine Tate and David Tennant.
Whoever they are.
A wider review of the day will come later: certainly it was a day with much brilliance and beauty surrounding the central event.
There is much to enjoy about Much Ado anyway: despite the horrible central moment where Hero is humiliated unjustly, virtually all of the play is about the laughter, the bickering, the biting wit and the verbal comedy.
The staging is relatively sparse, with columns and a rotating stage that allow us inside/outside views of the characters and their positioning in rooms in relation to each other. This production also lends the play a suitable amount of slapstick (or slap paint) and the height of the stage space is wonderfully utilised for comedic effect. Everyone gives their all, and it was really nice to see so many familiar faces amongst the actors performing. There are many delicious lines delivered with great incision and verve. But....
It's all about Benedick and Beatrice
Oh we'd all be lying if we said this wasn't what we'd come for. Whilst an RSC production inevitably HAS to be all about the ensemble and the play - with particular performers the icing on the cake for the production, albeit incredibly desirable icing - with a West End production it can be harder to ignore the power of the specific performers in key roles.
Tennant and Tate acknowledged this in the rounds of interviews they've done for the show: they're savvy enough to realise that their names create a buzz and draw attention. They put bums on seats and potentially bring in audiences to a Shakespeare who may otherwise not have been interested. Mind, with the Globe also doing Much Ado this season, this production may turn out to have stiff competition on the Shakespeare front - one can also imagine the Globe sniffily groaning at its commercial rival for even thinking it could steal the Globe's 'Authentic Shakespeare' thunder.
But as I say, in this instance, our Beatrice and Benedick are our central focus and not just because of who is playing them. These two verbally dextrous figures must be a delight to play: bitterly witty, playful, human, and a little reflective. With the right staging and use of their characters on stage, even little gestures can become points of high entertainment.
From Tennant's first entrance, positively making great show of his emergence to an attentive audience, to the finale of joyous dancing, one can't help but feel the director and Tennant were thinking 'how best can we wind up the fangirls/fanboys?' for there are so many directoral decisions that are beyond the play text. Poses - a languid stretch at one point emphasises his slender physique; dances - every movement of body, clothes and hands screaming 'flirt!'; glance - his oh-so-expressive eyes contacting with the audience with mischief.
Tate also continues to prove her worth on stage and provides further evidence of her dramatic as well as comedic talents - to combine such gifts for physical comedy with such elegance and excellence of delivering verbal humour is a rare combination. And she clearly gets a huge buzz of performing with her 'mate' Tennant.
And that's another thing: if ever a pairing required chemistry of some sort, Benedick and Beatrice are that pair. I'd make an argument that the best performances of B&B are where there is some kind of pre-exisiting connection between the actors in these roles. Whether that is as friends, colleagues who have worked together over some lengthy period of time, and/or indeed are in a romantic relationship --- one of the core things underpinning the B&B relationship in the play is the longevity of their knowing each other, the history that is behind their barbed wit and seemed animosity. So it just makes sense that some of the best performances of this play involve pairings where there is a history of some sort. Two unknown actors coming together for the first time have to work extra hard to begin to convey the easy intimacy and connection that Benedick and Beatrice need to convey to the audience. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it is possible to tell when there isn't some kind of history between the actors I think.
I'm avoiding spoiling too much of the stage direction and quirks of the production - others will provide that elsewhere should you desire to read in advance. The main thing is go and enjoy. There may even be a few tickets left for certain performances if you're lucky. Give it a whirl anyway if you're not already going because it's certainly a helluva ride.