This is my favourite adaptation of Shakespeare’s work simply because it’s so accessible and immensely quotable with lines fit to burn anyone you dislike by the first scene alone. Add to already a play filled with sarcasm, burns and David Tennant and Catherine Tate with the loose sun bathed British in the 1980s and you have got yourself a package of fun. If you are unsure about Shakespeare then watch this now! He was not just the man held to the pedestal we put him on through history, but he played to the crowds as much as any entertainer today. And this is entertaining! One where human relationships are more important than moral or philosophy.
Oh boy, this is a Rom-Com before it was even a category in the theatrical language. Don Pedro of Aragon comes back to Messina with his bastard brother Don John to stay at Leonato’s household. Among the group is Benedict who starts sparring with the sharp witted Beatrice, who both have a past and take it out on each other with words. Benedick’s friend Claudio falls in love with Leonato’s daughter Hero and the two are going to be married as well as planning too get Benedict and Beatrice together in the meanwhile. Don John plans to ruin the wedding and does so with disguises and a well placed Claudio to see the deception. The wedding is ruined. Beatrice and Benedick confess their love to one another and she asks him to kill Claudio. He challenges him and tells the others that his allegiance is with Beatrice and her family who don’t believe the lie Don John made happen the day before the wedding. Another wedding happens and all is set right. After a little bit of nudging both Benedict and Beatrice end up together officially and everyone is happy. Cue a dance party ending!
This adaptation of The Bard’s work is one of the best there is. It is not high class Shakespeare like Hamlet or his Henriad, but unashamedly low brow. In fact, this along with A Midsummer Night’s Dream are – in my humble opinion – the best two Shakespeare plays to put on during the summer. They are light, have crude humour all around and just make you happy with the farce that comes out of all the situations. If well performed, these two are a double trouble in the laughs department for both the actors and audience.
Benedick and Beatrice are the best couple in Shakespeare (Fight me Romeo and Juliet! I am ready!). The play itself casts them as the “B” couple compared to Hero and Claudio, but they end up being the “A” one as they are far more interesting than the latter. Depending on the way it is acted of course. No worried here though!
David Tennant and Catherine Tate are perfectly cast as Benedick and Beatrice. In this whole production no one takes over, but Tate and Tennant come very close to doing it simply by their chemistry alone as well as their quickly witted sparring of sarcastic sentences that are a steal to use in some situation to another. “Scratching could not make it worse with such a face as yours were.” is my favourite quote and I swear I will use it if I EVER have the opportunity to do so. The script is full of these burns and add to that the Rom-Com plot and it really is the perfect marriage between story and dialogue, especially with the top notch cast in this.
This production also has an album on Spotify filled with songs from the play and it its HILARIOUS! David Tennant and Catherine Tate have a duet and it is worth listening to!!
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON! WATCH THIS PLAY OR READ THIS IF YOU WANT TO! BUT IT REALLY IS BETTER TO EXPERIENCE IT FIRST!
Beatrice – Sharp Witted Shakespearean Feminist Icon
Catherine Tate as Beatrice is a Shakespearean role she was born to play. Being a comedienne she knows how to make you laugh and her acting talents shine with David Tennant in their banter. Having been the former Doctor’s companion (and my favourite of them) Donna Noble there is a familiarity with the two of them. A kind of comfortability that shows in the tender moments and since they know how to act together then when at the beginning the characters aren’t on good terms they know exactly how to respond. Her vulnerable moments are so wonderful.
Now the character of Beatrice is my favourite of Shakespeare heroines (se gifts above for proof). She is strong willed, witty and gives as good back when some sarcasm is thrown at her. In her position as a woman she gives innuendos, flirts unashamedly and she will not be quiet. That is the most powerful aspect of her. She talks and makes others listen, because she knows she is right in many things and even though in her position as a woman in a play with a plot point of the Madonna-Whore complex, she has more guts than the men in the play. Benedick absolutely adores her and will do anything for her. They talk and they love one another. He believes her over his superiors who are all men about Hero’s virtuosity. That alone shows how great of a character she is.
Benedick – The Not So Eternal Batchelor
David Tennant as Benedick is just an absolute treat as the comic, sarcastic and hanger on. He uses his own natural Scottish accent and it is just absolutely wonderful to hear, because it just adds to the comic appeal (as well as any other appeal he might have). The arc of Benedick is shown on him clearly and he is not afraid to make an absolute fool of himself, indeed we laugh with him not at him. He (like the rest of the main cast) aren’t afraid to interact with the audience and give a little wink and nudge when the jokes come. He is just the perfect Benedick in my eyes.
Benedick as a character in this play tries to act much cooler than he actually is. It’s a disguise for his vulnerability, the kind of softness he only allows himself around Beatrice. He knows that she is smarter than him and he is no less manly knowing it and acting like it. From thinking he has lost his friend to marriage he proposes by the end of the play. He grows from insulting Beatrice to loving her for her own person. Benedick is a bit of a whore for men with money (I am not kidding, its very much told in text) and hangs with men much richer than him and is dubbed the Prince’s Jester by Beatrice because of it. He is that funny friend that everyone picks on, but still cares about. Only after his defences (his sarcasm and comedy) lessen throughout does his own personality shine. It shows a lot about him that he doesn’t speak of his love for Beatrice to his friends (who already know), but that he keeps it hidden, just like the rest of his vulnerability. In a play about masks his is the most clearly shown to be shredded away as it passes. He learns from his mistakes, there might have been years since he and Beatrice had their “fling”, but he grows by his own volition to see that he cannot see his life without Beatrice by his side.
Benedick and Beatrice – The “B” Couple We All Come To See
“There’s a skirmish of wit between them.” is the first description we get about these two. They are at each others throats by the way of words whenever they meet and throw more snark at one another than any character in the play. They are the only ones who can keep up with their quick witted brains and give back knowing its all done in good jest. Now there is implication that he and Beatrice had a “thing” or a “fling” in the past and he left her and that is the reason they quarrel. But they still love one another and are just deeeeeeeeeep in denial about it until the affection they have for one another is forced by the way of their friends scheming and their own buried feelings underneath the sarcasm they throw.
When they are “pranked” by their respective friends about the other loving them they are both overjoyed. They are in private and only the audience knows their mental state because of their monologue. Benedict, full in white paint and grinning like an idiot, thinks Beatrice is fair even though she acts as rude towards him as before, only know he thinks she is in love with him and there is more meaning to her words. He listens. When Beatrice learns about Benedick’s feelings with her cousins and the maids dialogue she is happy, over joyous. Then at the Batchelor/Bachelorette party they exchange long awkward “he/she likes me and I can’t stop looking” at each other in this production. Benedick shaves off his beard (or just cleans himself up, this is stage not real life and it would be impossible to show it on stage every night) and Beatrice sneezes every time Benedick’s word is said. They both had had a change of their body (inside and out) when learning of the others (now real) affections. It’s like a lighting struck thing, that it takes for a while for the body and mind to comprehend (just like in any case of love) and so it is shown in different ways on both characters. Benedict with his lack of Batchelor beard and she with her sneezing. It’s really adorable.
Then after the whole confrontation at the wedding and all Hero business when Beatrice is weeping for her cousin, all other guests have left, but Benedick stays to comfort her and then BOOM out pours the declaration of love. Tennant being Tennant it is both awkward, sweet, “wrong time mate!” and “YES!” from the audience.
There is a bit if snarking from Beatrice who was about to confess that she loved him too and they both act like sweet idiots. Beatrice gets serious and asks him to kill Claudio, Benedick is hesitant but he does challenge him because if Beatrice, Hero’s oldest friend and cousin, knows the charges are untrue than it must be. Did I already mention he is the Perfect Guy? Because he literally is out of all of Shakespeare. Romeo sucks when compared to Benedict.
Plot moves on and he is composing a song for Beatrice (awwwww). A little play on the fact that now Claudio won’t hear anything but sweet music compared to the drum and the fife he listened to as a bachelor. Benedick is now doing what he feared his friend would do and he has no idea the poor in love idiot. Thing are setting up for the final act and Beatrice and Benedick talk and he declares his devotion to her. Again, Perfect Guy!
Then at the fake wedding he pops up the question out of the blue. He is so in love, but Beatrice is still a little resistant. Again, see the info about their supposed past. And now he is kneeling and she just doesn’t know what to do other than to cover up that vulnerability inside her with again being sarcastic.
When their friends give them letters about what the other wrote about them these are their faces. Whatever it is they read it’s clearly not good, or just bad writing. There is room for interpretation in the text.
Then Benedick asks her to marry him, again and she snarks again, but this time its clearly the last bits of denial. She snarks and tries to hide her affection since they are among other people, but then he kisses her and everyone’s happy! Benedick essentially learns how to love, while Beatrice’s arc is about letting herself be loved.
If anyone asks for the best couple in Shakespeare then say this. Benedick and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing. Because they simply will have the most healthy marriage out of all of Shakespeare’s romances just for the simple fact that they listen, they talk, they argue and already know each other before even coming together.
Don Pedro of Aragon – A Suitor and Cupid in One
Adam James as Don Pedro is a good willed man who loves his bother even though the flaws are clear for him to see. He also asks Beatrice if she would marry him and when she rebuffs him with humour and flees he is disheartened. But he takes it in good strides and sees that “Hey, Benedick might be better for her. Let’s set them up!” and sets the romance in motion. He also has his flaws as he believes the slander his clearly evil bastard brother tells and shows them, but he redeems himself. And in this production is a little disheartened as everyone is set with their respective loved ones and he is alone. The heart brought by Adam James in to this role is spectacular as he tries to make others happy at the risk of his own and it clearly shows.
Don John – The “Bastard” Bastard
Elliot Levey as Don John is a “plain dealing villain” and he knows it. Instead of trying to take over his brother’s position or have him murdered he makes mischief like a cartoon villain with a lot of self awareness. There is a fair amount of tension between him and Borachio, one of his men, and so it could be read as gay or queer or whatever label might seem to fit. It is a small thing and doesn’t mean he is a villain because he is gay. Don John is not good with words and is beyond awkward with other people other than his own men and Borachio. He is not a villain and what he accomplices in terms of Shakespeare villains is minuscule, but he is better at manipulating other people. Manipulation being one of the many themes of the play as he brings flash evidence of Hero’s treachery a day before the wedding just to cause chaos. Heck, he isn’t even in the third act, thats’s how less his part is in this Rom-Com.
Hero – The Bride To Be
Sarah MacRae as Hero at first starts as the blonde popular cousin of Beatrice and her comic timing is perfect. She gives Hero depth which lacks on paper and in her 80s Diana wedding dress it foreshadows the wedding to come. McRae just jumps off the screen (or stage) with her presence as a Hero who has to make tough choices and who is not as meek as she seems to be. She is bright, bubbly and a nervous bride just like any woman would be.
Claudio – An Idiot in Love
Tom Bateman as Claudio gives us a man who is an idiot, but once his accusation has caused unforeseen consequences he does redeem himself. He has yet to learn how to properly take advice and who to believe, this part can be played as a young naive foolish idiot or a conscious choice. Bateman goes to the latter one and when we see him regret what he does we can either forgive him or still hate him. He is a complicated character even though he is simple one on paper and Bateman makes us sympathise with him, but he doesn’t force us to forgive him afterwards.
Dogberry – The Great Foolish Man
The official comedy comes from Dogberry and his officers who are on the watch for suspicious activity. “I am an ass.” he say and he is just wonderfully comically played by John Ramm who never makes it awkward. There are times when I do skip this part, but still he steals the show from the many group of watchmen around him.
If this hasn’t yet convinced you to loo up the play or watch this version of it then I can’t help you. Its isn’t great Shakespeare, but its comfortable, easy and fun. It makes you laugh and tells you about love and relationships at the same time. Because if there is nothing in this word, then let there be at least just simple love for one another, in new loves, old flames brought back or just simply letting yourself be loved that is the most important.
Thank you for reading!