Stage Production at the Wyndham’s Theatre
Directed by Josie Rourke
Starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate as Benedick and Beatrice
Film of the stage production available at www.digitaltheatre.com.
When the Prince returns from the war, reconciled with his miscreant brother, he decides to stay at the home of his old friend Leonato. Leonato’s daughter, Hero, is delighted with this news, as the noble Claudio whom she loves is with the king’s company. Leonato’s niece, Beatrice, on the other hand, is less than thrilled when she learns that Benedick will be with them. Benedick has a wit and tongue as sharp as Beatrice’s own, and what Leonato calls their “merry skirmishes of wit” often devolve into insults that leave one party (usually Benedick) horribly offended. But on one thing Benedick and Beatrice agree: they are both dead set against marriage. And when Hero and Claudio announce their intentions to marry, Benedick and Beatrice cannot keep their opinions to themselves. As their friends grow frustrated with their cynicism, the Prince hatches a clever plan to trick Benedick and Beatrice into falling in love with one another. Meanwhile, the Prince’s brother is hatching plans of his own to thwart Claudio’s marriage to Hero.
I thoroughly enjoyed this production of Much Ado! I was unable to see it live on the stage, but the filming of the stage play was well done. As always, David Tennant demonstrated his versatility as an actor, making his Benedick hilarious, occasionally clownish, but also very human and deeply emotional. Catherine Tate’s performance had slightly less depth, but she got to do a lot of the slapstick comedy that she does so well. It is difficult for me not to compare this production to Branagh’s 1993 film adaptation, in which Emma Thompson’s incredibly nuanced performance of Beatrice really shaped the film and added a lot of depth to even the most humorous moments. But Rourke’s production went in a different direction. While Thompson’s Beatrice seems older, mature, and wise in her cynical wit, Tate’s Beatrice is immature, snarky, self-centered, irritating to the other characters, and actually perfectly deserving of the equally immature and self-centered Benedick. As an audience member, I took a lot of glee in in the fooling of Benedick and Beatrice in this production because they both truly deserved it. Also, the scene where Claudio, Leonato, and the Prince mess with Benedick is beyond hilarious.
As far as films go, I would still recommend Branagh’s 1993 film adaptation first to those who are less familiar with Shakespeare–in part simply because it’s an hour shorter and because it was actually conceived as a film, rather than a filmed play, and so is smoother to watch. But lovers of Shakespeare and/or the Tenth Doctor should definitely check out the Rourke production. It is quite good! (Also, check out David Tennant and Sir Patrick Stewart in the incredible 2009 RSC Hamlet.)