Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakespeare
Wyndham's Theatre
(2011)

David Tennant as Benedick

By way of contrast to Jeremy Herrin's relatively traditional Much Ado, which opened at the Globe the previous week, Josie Rourke has created a populist, Dr Who star vehicle to wow West End audiences.

The trick is already working as top price £61 tickets were being sold by agents at over 2½ times that sum by the time that the show officially opened.

In order to make Shakespeare accessible to fans of David Tennant and Catherine Tate, Miss Rourke has taken a leaf out of the I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue book by reimagining Much Ado in the style of Mamma Mia.

Set on a Mediterranean island during the 1980s, the production is visually, temperamentally and in terms of the mannerisms and speech patterns, very much designed for a modern audience.

Underpinning this is Shakespeare's good old comedy, though at times it can seem creaky in the spotlight of a contemporary milieu. In particular, it is hard to believe that the Hello-wedding of two beautiful youngsters with the looks of cover models would be impeded by the discovery that the bottle-blonde bimbo bride, Hero, was no longer a virgin.

However, though the poetry does not benefit from the updating, there is much to enjoy in this 2¾ hours, especially for the devoted fans of two of TV's biggest stars. In particular, some of the visual humour is fantastic, particularly in the mirrored scenes in which Beatrice and Benedick's friends give their stormy relationship some none too subtle nudges in the right direction.

After the navy has returned from a successful battle, Hero and handsome Claudio, respectively played by Sarah Macrae and Tom Bateman, soon hook up, attracted by looks rather than brains.

To counterpoint their match, Tennant as a drunken Glaswegian Benedick who makes his entry on a golf cart that blares out Dixie, and Miss Tate playing Beatrice as a mildly estuarine, malcontent modelled on - well, Catherine Tate - joust with barbed words.

Underlying surface misanthropy and protestations that they will never marry anyone, it is easy enough to see a future marriage in the making

However, true love does not run all that smoothly for either pairing, as Elliot Levey's wicked Don John throws a spanner into the works, which nearly ends the play as a tragedy.

However, a quartet of ageing amateur sleuths under the guidance of John Ramm's Rambo-Dogberry uncover the plot and save the day to ensure that the final disco marks a wedding rather than a wake.

There is no doubt that audiences will flock to Wyndham's and love seeing their heroes in the flesh. However, those wanting a taste of the wit and subtlety of the real thing, will prefer the joys of the Globe and could save around £130 into the bargain.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher