What we really need isn’t a summer blockbuster, but a summer fling.
The Wyndham‘s lively 80s-themed production of Shakespeare’s most popular comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, as directed by Josie Rourke offers a sunnily irresistible brightness. Despite its self-deprecating title, this frothy comedy has at its heart a painful tragedy: the ease with which men in power can destroy the lives of women on a whim. It doesn’t help that the lover in question, Claudio, is a drama queen of the first order. He falls madly in love and when his boss Don Pedro works to persuade the girl to wed his friend, immediately assumes the prince wants her for himself and bitterly pouts until assured the wooing was done entirely in Claudio’s name.
No surprise then that he’s easily beguiled into believing Hero has betrayed him with another man, but it is Claudio’s vengeful nature that makes him choose to spurn her at the altar in a grossly public scene that makes manifest the slender thread by which a woman’s reputation hangs. Initially, even Hero’s father sides with the Duke and Claudio against his daughter. That her death would follow immediately upon such a rank humiliation seems quite believable to all.
Benedick, however, takes this decisively gendered moment to declare his loyalty to the other side of the line–for Beatrice of course, but for women in general. In many ways, Beatrice and Benedick offer the prototype of the modern cliché of the lovers who hate each other until they fall into each others arms. As embodied by Catherine Tate and David Tennant, however, the sparking romance never feels contrived, but the natural outcome of two people getting bumped out of their habitual ruts into a romantic collision with the collusion of their friends.
For Doctor Who fans, it’s the culmination of the relationship of Donna and the Doctor (though she was never interested in that, no matter what swooning fans wanted to believe), but what this production makes clear (for those who didn’t get it before) is just how much more both Tate and Tennant can do. While Tennant had trod the boards with great success before, the leap for Tate seemed less certain, but this is not Tate doing a character, but playing a role. She embodies Beatrice with a visible confidence though somewhat dowdied by her denim in the initial scenes of the play. Suddenly appearing in a form-fitting blue dress for the scheduled wedding, Tate’s womanly grace becomes apparent and both she and Tennant soften their often harsh tones as the lovers declare themselves in the midst of others’ sorrow.
Audiences may be pulled in by the star power of Tate and Tennant, but Rourke’s brassy production provides a real satisfying treat.