Play: Much Ado About Nothing
Year Produced: 2011
Catherine Tate – Beatrice
David Tennant – Benedick
Sarah MacRae – Hero
Tom Bateman – Claudio
Elliot Levey- Don John
As a budget-limited fan of theater, I am eternally grateful for the accessibility that our modern world provides us, in the form of affordable, high-quality streaming video. Much as I would like to just pop on over to London, catch a few plays, grab a biscuit and fly back home, unfortunately that is not possible.
Thankfully, there’s Digital Theater! And also thankfully, this production is practically perfect in every way. As brilliant as everyone is in this, this is really David Tennant and Catherine Tate’s show from start to finish.
Tennant’s Benedick is playful, intensely Scottish, and full of life and laughter. He arrives in a golf cart and owns the stage every scene he’s in. Except when Catherine Tate is there with him, in which case you are going
The choice of setting and staging really bring the moments of levity and playfulness to light. A rotating center portion of the stage with tall columns easily shifts to any scene or setting, and much of the costuming plays off different shades of white and cream. White uniforms, white suits, splashes of color against a marble checkerboard floor all serve to elevate the themes of purity, honesty, chastity.
One scene that really stood out to me is the scene immediately following the disaster of a not-wedding. Sarah MacRae’s Hero, up to this point, has been a very mild, sweet woman, but afterwards, after her father rebukes her—
Wherefore! Why, doth not every earthly thing
Cry shame upon her? Could she here deny
The story that is printed in her blood?—
Do not live, Hero, do not ope thine eyes,
For, did I think thou wouldst not quickly die,
Thought I thy spirits were stronger than thy shames,
Myself would, on the rearward of reproaches,
Strike at thy life. Grieved I I had but one?
Chid I for that at frugal Nature’s frame?
O, one too much by thee! Why had I one?
Why ever wast thou lovely in my eyes?
Why had I not with charitable hand
Took up a beggar’s issue at my gates,
Who, smirchèd thus, and mired with infamy,
I might have said, “No part of it is mine;
This shame derives itself from unknown loins”?
—Act 4, Scene 1
Hero heres all of these accusations and she responds to them with such a determined spine. I really loved the choices this actress made in this scene, not to get too overwrought or overcome, but to make her lines into the purest truth, even if her voice shakes, even if tears wait in her eyes. Just a lovely take on this difficult scene. And, as always, so so hard to hear her own father say such monstrous things about her.
But this is Beatrice and Benedick’s play, and this is Tennant and Tate’s performance, and we are all the richer for it. They have such marvelous chemistry, and they each manage to play up the individuality of the characters, rather than any harshness or… assholery. They simply are who they are, and they do love each other, and though it takes extreme circumstances for them to admit it, it immediately draws them closer as soon as they do. Their exchange of truths—I love you, no u—reaches the highest of emotional highs, and is followed sharply by the lowest lows. She is wronged, she is slandered, she is undone… and even though the staging is modern, the text somehow is timeless in this moment, because we see that it takes so little to utterly ruin a woman’s reputation. To kill her, render her devoid of any value—what’s essentially the same thing.
Now there is one interesting addition that the director chose to make almost near the end of this production. When Claudio comes to Hero’s tomb to sing his apology, he follows it up by a rather intense suicide attempt. He has a bottle of liquor, a gun he places under his chin—and he is stopped by an almost ghostly nighttime vision of Hero, in her black dress and veil. This is what stops him—and I don’t totally hate the choice, I think it’s effective in the sense that it really pushes Claudio to show his suffering about how intimately he has wronged her… but it’s not there in the text.
Overall, though, this production is an utter delight.