The Globe’s latest take on Shakespeare’s great comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, is sure to be overshadowed by the attention-grabbing combination of David Tennant’s Benedick and Catherine Tate’s Beatrice which opens at Wyndham’s in a week’s time. If this comes to pass is will be unfortunate indeed as this is a truly delightful production, and one of the Globe’s finest achievements in recent memory.
The parallel plot-lines of the sundering of Claudio and Hero by jealous Don John and the compact to bring the sniping Benedick and Beatrice together are familiar enough, and both are ably brought to the fore here. Where productions can suffer by sinking the Claudio plot too far into the background, it shares equal footing here, with the hint of laddishness in Philip Cumbus’s Claudio providing the character with much needed flesh and colour. Similarly welcome is the dry wit that Joseph Marcell brings to Leonato, whose feigned rage at his daughter’s mock-manslaughter is wonderfully pitched.
Best of all is Eve Best’s showboating Beatrice. Played with all the self- awareness of a stand-up comic, Best’s Beatrice riffs joyously off the groundlings and consistently trounces Charles Edward’s Benedick. Edwards recovers quickly from a shaky start, and though a note of camp in his performance feels out of place, he warms into a memorable and energetic foil.
The second half in general is much the stronger, with the arrival of Dogberry (Told By an Idiot’s Paul Hunter) and the watch broadening the humour considerably as the sky above darkens. There is such warmth and simple pleasure in this production that there is little space for the play’s more complex themes of honour and sexuality, but particular attention should be paid to the handling of the difficult Act V Scene 1, in which the tragedy of Claudio’s actions and the light banter of Benedick and Beatrice rub awkwardly against one another. Director Jeremy Herrin faces this incongruity head on, sounding a rare but welcome note of discomfort in an otherwise breezy evening.
That it has become usual to discuss a production at the Globe by reference to the venue rather than the director is perhaps indicative of the strange position it occupies in London theatre. Lodged awkwardly in the liminal space between credible producing house and kitschy tourist trap, its attempts at the tragedies have been known to fall flat compared to their counterparts at the RSC or the National. It is a joy then to see Much Ado tackled with such confidence and winning charisma, and if it is painted in the broad strokes appropriate to its location, it is no less enthralling for it.