“Can the world buy such a jewel?”
Well you can now buy a copy of Josie Rourke’s Much Ado About Nothing which parlayed the star quality of its leads David Tennant and Catherine Tate into massive box office success but watching it again, I’m not so convinced of its jewel-like propensities. Revisiting this particular show did it no real favours in my mind, exposing its limitations and the lack of subtlety that characterises so much of the production.
Relocated to a Gibraltar naval base in the 1980s, the brashness of that decade was clearly taken onboard as a key note for the whole thing. But whereas from the back row of the Wyndhams, it seemed to work in filling the theatre, in the up close and personal of the camera lens, the broadness doesn’t work quite as well. Tennant comes off slightly better with a more natural reading of the lines as a cocky Benedick but Tate never really gets under the skin of Beatrice, the emphasis too much on artifically contrived comedy which never allows her to just be. She is always made to work harder by Rourke who perhaps should have trusted her actor a bit more as she really comes into her own from ‘kill Claudio…’ where she demonstrates her dramatic gift and indicates what might have been of lines like “there was a star danced…” had she been mugging less right before delivering it.
I did appreciate the opportunity to see the handsomeness of much of the cast, Leo Starr’s opening soldier in particular; having seen Alex Beckett so recently in The Changeling meant that his Borachio made more of an impact on me but he does come across as a much better villain than Elliot Levey’s pantomime-like sibilant Don John and Adam James’ quality shines through as he gives a performance which belongs in a better production (and seriously, who would turn him down in that outfit?!) And I also liked being able to fast-forward through the Dogberry scenes, though I’d forgotten that Claudio’s gothic visit to Hero’s ‘grave’ was also worthy of speeding through quickly.
It was mildly amusing, and a little gratifying, to see that the odd little flub and the accidental dropping of a cigarette were kept in, making it feel more authentically like live theatre than too polished an end result. But in the end too much of the production doesn’t work on the screen – Michael Bruce’s music (which makes a surprisingly listenable soundtrack) feels more like a delaying tactic than an integral part of the show – we don’t really need many more reminders that we’re in the 80s – and the revolving stage which is used quite well simply acts as a constant jolt that we’re watching a show, the mechanics of theatre exposed rather than allowing us to sink into a brave new world.