Oh damn you, David Tennant. Just when I was growing old gracefully and getting over you, I had to go and see Much Ado and fall in love with you all over again!
Even the critics who have a bit of a down on this production, and populist Shakespeare generally, are finding it hard to fault him as Benedick. He just lights up the stage and his comic timing is a masterpiece. I have never laughed so much at a “let’s hide behind this bush/pillar/rock and evesdrop” scene in Shakespeare as much in my life – every little gesture was spot on, right down to the hand sneaking around the pillar and groping folornly for an abandoned drink.
He’s just so completely relaxed and in command of the audience – making the transition from dialogue to interior monologue to soliloquy quite effortless – the moment when he’s persuading himself that Beatrice’s grudging “Against my will I am sent to call you in to dinner” is a subtle declaration of love is a delight. The moment of truth (literally) for any Benedick, however, is “Kill Claudio” – everything hangs on the beat immediately after those words and his response. I don’t think CT helped by doing a kind of silly chicken dance and some very odd whoops when she realised B loved her – it takes a male lead with real acting chops to rescue a moment like that and he really came through. It was quite possible to imagine him following through on a challenge to Claudio.
The production itself…well, I remember the Eighties and I loved all the little touches like the Rubrik’s Cube. They did some amazing things with the music – a Madonna-style, “Come away, come away death” and a truly hilarious tomb scene with Claudio emoting to some Yes-style heavy metal (the words “Pardon, goddess of the night,” do fit very well!). I think the danger with all updates is that you have to try and stitch them together with the early-modern original, and following a promiscuous drunken hen night with public accusations that Hero is damaged goods is somewhat problematic. If you can handwave that, the setting works reasonably well.
Hate to say it, but I don’t think CT was quite in the same league as Tennant. There were some hilarious moments – I loved the scene where, suffering a heavy cold, she wipes her nose on the train of Hero’s wedding dress and rolls up in it – but it was a little bit too much stand-up and not quite well enough integrated with the Shakespeare for me. She did the put-down lines well – a bit less assured when she has to reveal genuine feeling and vulnerability. Still, outshining Tennant is a big ask and it was a wonderfully entertaining evening all round.
I think what I love the most about DT is the delight he takes in his work – that smile that could light up a whole room just floods over his face at the end and it’s absolutely infectious. Damn the man. Just when I thought I was over him, too.