Digital theatre. It’s a thing. A thing that allows you to watch a recorded play online in your own home – just the ticket if it’s sold out or you’re nowhere near the show. Every month, we bring you our verdict on one of the many plays available on-demand at DigitalTheatre.com.
Much Ado about Nothing is commonly considered one of Shakespeare’s strongest comedies. It is the story of Beatrice (Catherine Tate) and Benedick (David Tennant), a couple at first scornful of one another but then tricked into confessing their love. Along the way, you also get all the Shakespearean joys of disguise, mistaken identity, Elizabethan puns, and people swearing against marriage only to get married almost immediately. So far, so standard.
It’s hard to criticise Shakespeare once you have passed the age of 16 and multiple boring classroom readings of Romeo and Juliet. He was a genius! The greatest writer of all time! His work has endured for centuries! And there are so many Shakespeare experts out there, it’s intimidating to even whisper a mildly injurious phrase about Titus Andronicus. But it simply must be said: Much Ado is much over-rated.
Unlike in A Comedy of Errors or Twelfth Night, disguise and mistaken identity are thrown around in this play wildly, making you wonder if all these people have macular degeneration of some kind. How is there such confusion? What are they all smoking? While a healthy suspension of disbelief is necessary for all good Shakespeare, Much Ado pushes just too far. It’s ever-so-slightly too much hard work to follow. But this is a minor complaint. The production at the Wyndham Theatre – recorded for DigitalTheatre.com – was handsome and well done; the Greek Package Holiday styling is a little bit Mamma Mia at first, but you overcome that quickly.
The chemistry between Tate and Tennant is as electric as it was when they were sharing the Universe in Doctor Who. A cynical ploy to get bums on seats or not, they work well as Beatrice and Benedick. It would have been nice to see them tackle a tragedy, and push beyond the jovial camaraderie of the Tardis, but there is still time. The only problem with their chemistry is possibly that the rest of the cast – and, consequently, their characters – are underplayed. Or rather, upstaged; not by Tate and Tennant, necessarily, but by the production (and the digital theatre recording) following their every move at the expense of the supporting players. The strength of Shakespeare is so often in the ensemble, but they fade into the background of this famous double act.
All that said, this is a strong production. Proudly singing Hey Nonny, Nonny and rocking dungarees and white naval dress uniform makes up for a multitude of sins. It’s well worth catching this play if you missed it in the theatre – and even if you did see it, it bears repeat viewing.
Much Ado about Nothing
Director: Josie Rourke
Cast: David Tennant, Catherine Tate
Venue: Wyndham’s Theatre, London