Review – Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndham’s Theatre

Saturday 28 May 2011

In which Phil goes all Statto.

Commercially speaking, it doesn’t really matter what the critics or the audiences or anyone thinks about this show, let alone the Whingers.

The inspired pairing of David Tennant and Catherine Tate ensured Doctor Who About Nothing quickly became a big to-do about something, practically selling out before previews began; probably even before the cast had started running their fingers under their lines.

Caught up in the frenzy, Phil spent a couple of hours trying to buy tickets on a crashing website when booking opened, getting to the point of nabbing two excellent seats only to lose them. And again. And again…

So it all boiled down to the Whingers prostrating themselves at the mercy of the daily lottery: 20 best seats sold in a raffle for £10* on the day, drawn at 10.30 am at the Wyndham’s Theatre. But each winner gets only one ticket which is fine if you have no friends but Phil and Andrew each have one friend**. And that friendship would be sorely tested if one got to see DWAN and the other didn’t.

Phil declined Andrew’s offer to borrow his fingers and toes to help him count the queue and whipped out his abacus: 40 people, two Whingers. Fingering his beads with sweating, tremulous hands he calculated that each Whinger had a 50% chance. Statistically one of the Whingers should secure a ticket. Yet there was only a one-in-four chance that both would win.

And so it was that Lady Luck – rather dully, we thought – duly observed the laws of chance that day and bestowed the worst of all possible outcomes: one ticket between two Whingers.

So what to do? One Whinger depart at the interval and the other take over for the second half. But which way round? Queue for a return (unsuccessful applicants get first dibs) and hope to get another ticket somewhere not too far away? Or put on our signature pathetic lost puppy faces and be thankful to the man who wanted two tickets, only won one, fell for the ruse and generously offered the Whingers his seat for a tenner? The Whingers have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.

But could all the effort be worth it? This was Andrew’s first DWAN and he owned up to secretly swotting up on the plot. Phil confessed to doing the same, concluding, “Gosh, it’s horribly complicated isn’t it?”

In a nutshell, Beatrice (Tate) and Benedick (Tennant) can’t stand each other. Will they fall in love? Did Harry when he met Sally? Can’t imagine. Then there’s the convoluted sub-plots involving the good Don/bad Don (Adam James/Elliot Levey – both excellent) and young lovers Hero (Sarah MacRae, lovely) and Claudio (Tom Bateman, dashing). Let’s not even go there.

Director Josie O’ Rourke*** has possibly transported the action to Gibraltar (but there are few if any clues to that unless you buy a programme – not a bare Barbary Macaque bottom in sight) and updated it to the eighties (1980s, that is). Cue references to The Blues Brothers, Adam Ant, Thatcher, Princess Di and that Emanuel wedding dress and lots of business including a disco and hen party scene to help propel you through some of Shakespeare‘s more turgid moments. For some reason everyone smokes which is rather puzzling but it does lead to one fantastic gag involving a Rubiks cube and a cigarette.

The thing is, it really is riotously funny. Tennant and Tate are side-splittingly good. Miss O’Rourke shows a healthy disregard for the text and takes every opportunity to liven up some of the duller bits. Who can honestly say they were listening to a word of the dialogue when Tennant and Tate got a chance to perform their respective scene-stealing slapsticks in the background – he with paint, she swinging on a rope (with a nod to Mission Impossible)? The audience – Whingers included – were in paroxysms of delight at the antics.

Indeed, there could have been more. Dogberry (John Ramm of National Theatre of Brent) was terrific fun (our favourite bit: an inspired tiny moment of business with a chair) but frankly the famed Malopropisms were rather lost on the Whingers who find Shakespeare’s use of many words rather puzzling anyway. And clearly the Whingers’ pre-show research was at best perfunctory as we were completely lost as to whether or not Hero was dead and – if she wasn’t – who knew that and why they were pretending she was. And, of course, everyone thinking someone is dead doesn’t provide much of an opportunity for laughs. So, yes, the second act is a bit of a downer and it’s just as well the Whingers didn’t opt to see one half of the show each as the show ran at nearly 3 hours despite an advertised running time of 2 hours 15 minutes (including interval) and the first half was much longer (90 minutes) and much more entertaining than the second.

Tate successfully ploughs her TV personae playing around with her delivery to elicit laughs – even channelling Frankie Howerd at one point (“Oooh… Get you to heaven”) to appreciative titters from the Whingers. Tennant from his first hilarious (but-unfair-to-spoil) first entrance (and exit) as the gangly, saucer-eyed Benedict shares terrific chemistry with the stroppy and sarcastic Tate.

MacRae and Bateman deliver good turns too, the latter making a remarkable professional debut. But what a first gig to get. Poor chap. Imagine playing to standing room only and standing ovations in the West End for your first pay cheque. He must be thinking that acting’s a right lark.

There is impressive wardrobe care on display too. the men’s impeccably creased white trews suggest a Corby trouser press in meltdown somewhere backstage though the Whingers were also reminded that it’s impossible to pull off wearing linen anything, let alone linen shorts.

The music by the lovely Michael Bruce (who the Whingers fell into conversation with after the show as he happened to be drinking at the next table) is very convincing 80s pastiche which is quite impressive considering Bruce was only seven years old when the 80s ended. For his reinvention of the usually dreary Hey Nonny Nonnys into a Wham song the Whingers are eternally grateful.


* Still in Statto mood Phil decided that (given the demand for tickets) it’s rather generous of them to do the lottery at all.  Including taxes etc he worked out that if they sold the seats at full price it could take about an extra £6,000 a week during previews and £7,140 a week after Press Night. Assuming the show can’t extend its run and as it seems to be doing only 7 shows a week that’s still over £110,000 by the time it closes. So we’re not carping, it just seems a curious way of doing it.

** Don’t get Andrew started on the Donmar’s “friend” scheme’s telephone booking system which occupied 90 minutes of Andrew’s time and cost 49x3sec calls@13p=£6.30. 1x40min call £2.93. Total: £9.25 (even on Skype!). Bad seats. “Friendship” indeed.

*** Yes we know. But Phil, until corrected by Andrew, really believed it was O’Rourke. And it has stuck. As sure as the Whingers always raise their glasses to “tinkerty tonk” we now can’t say the Donmar-Grande-Dame-in-waiting’s name without adding the extra O’ and we rather like it. We think it has a distinct ring to it.



12 Responses to “Review – Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndham’s Theatre”

  1. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    Right, so now you’ve done the mandatory you can go to the one at the Globe with an understanding both of the plot and of how much of B&B is writing rather than performance. I’m not allowed into Wyndham’s till Wednesday, but I reckon la Tate – much as I like her as an actor (she’s never floated my boat as a comic, but as an actor, full steam ahead!) – will be hard pressed to beat Eve Best’s wonderful Beatrice.

  2. Julia Eccles Says:

    Oh I am so glad you agree with me, thought we might have to part ways, but now I know all is right with the world and we can all be friends again. Breathes a sigh of relief, Julia xx

  3. Oy. One of the few times that I have to disagree with the Whingers.

    I am hoping for a better production at the Globe though so all is not lost.

  4. betsy Says:

    how come all these directors get to run theatres (and be well paid for it) and still spend a month or two now and then directing elsewhere? shouldn’t she be writing grant applications or reading plays at the bush? i wish i could take a couple of months out of my job to do a couple of months’ work elsewhere (on double pay)…

  5. Good to hear that the West End Whingers enjoyed this! Everythingtheatre thought it was great too, though we cut our rating short of 5 stars…
    Obviously, Tate was great, and Tennant even better. As you quite rightly pointed out, this show is going to be a hit regardless (judging by the number of Doctor Who fans outside the theatre…did no-one tell them about stage door?)

    If you feel like reading our review, it’s here



  6. Lily Says:

    Agree with the whingeing ones: good to see Donna and the Doctor getting their rocks off, on a Rock. Click me to see our “eighties lyrics” re-write: a tribute to the show’s 1982 vibe!

  7. […] in the queue. And this being a lottery, even if you get all your friends in line for 10am, like the West End Whingers you might not all get tickets. You might even get none. But, unlike the National Theatre, at least […]

  8. […] Read all reviews for MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at the Globe and at Wyndham’s plus have a look at the West End Whingers’ verdict here. […]

  9. The Omnivore Says:

    The rest of the press weren’t so sure about the Tate-Tennant combo. Have a look at the review roundup on the Omnivore here including reviews for the Much Ado on at the Globe:

  10. Time Out Says:

    The Time Out guide to current and upcoming Shakespeare theatre productions in London has got loads of information on what to see when, what the hotly tipped shows are and how to buy tickets:

  11. Sam Says:

    Hmmm.. Sorry, I didn’t get it. I didn’t think that they had any chemistry really. It’s unfortunate that CT’s gurning facial expressions recapture her TV show, which while sending much of the audience into raptures: ‘look, she’s doing that thing she does..go on, do Nanna’, made me feel like that it was CT in the ‘CT show’ doing Shakespeare. Didn’t need the Frankie Howerd ‘OOhh eerrr’. I appreciate that she knows her audience, but I wish that she’d stepped outside that a bit and shown usa different side to her acting.

    Can’t put my finger on what it was about DT. Always liked him, but just didnt find him convincing. And those denim shorts. Noooo. Wrong on so many levels, 1980’s or not. All that said, the rest of the cast were fab. In fact I would liked to have seen Adam James play Benedick; he would have been more robust and charasmatic. The direction can’t be faulted and, knowing many of the audience aren’t your average Shakespeare type, the director and cast really do ensure that it’s very immediate and not over-complicated – lines are said slowly and given a contemporary edge.

    All round, a good show and a great way to get kids who would normally reel away from Shakespeare into the theatre.

    Far more excited about my trip to the Globe to see the gorgeous Eve Best

  12. […] hit artistic highs (this year, Propeller) and limit myself to three a year. So I missed all of the excitement of the early days this how was on (it opened in May) and just finally got around to seeing it this month, four months […]

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