Sunday, May 29, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing. Edited by Robert Hastie, Josie Rourke.

When David Tennant and Catherine Tate appeared on BBC Breakfast in early January to announce their participation in a production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Wyndham's Theatre as Beatrice and Benedick, the obvious reaction was "of course they are". Anyone who saw their chemistry and quick fire screwball verbal sparring on Doctor Who could see that they were ripe for this challenge, especially late into their season together as they essentially became facets of the same character, (the Doctor Donna) leading to some almost instinctual comic timing. Although the ensuing production is still in previews and professional critics have yet to give their verdict, anecdotal evidence suggests that they’ve managed to transfer this alchemy to the stage.

This is the book of the production of the play. Behind a cover which reproduces the lobby poster is an introduction and interview with Josie Rourke the director, chats with designer Robert Jones, Tennant and Tate and the composer Michael Bruce as well as a rehearsal diary from associate director Robert Hastie and a copy of the text being used in this production. Demonstrating the speed within which such publications can be produced now, all of this was completed in April and signed off before the completion of even a run through and as Rourke admits, there may well be a few variances from what ultimately appears on stage: “with the printer’s deadline looming, this was as close as we could get.”

That’s important because this is not simply yet another reprint of some scholarly edition but a brand new version of the play prepared by Rourke and Hastie after interrogating both the quarto and folio texts as well as a few modernised editions. Scenes are shifted around or expanded and other characters are changed out of recognition. To say more presumably has the potential to spoil part of the usual anticipation in seeing a new Shakespeare production – discovering how the director has interpreted the play – but suffice to say that at least one change opens up some interesting thematic avenues. My advice if you’ve managed to snag a ticket for the show is to buy this later as a souvenir.

All of the interview are understandably tentative. In describing the decision to set the play on a military island in the 1980s, all are very much in the realm of talking about what they hope will happen. There are design sketches and a reproduction of the new score for Hey Nonny, Nonny and the actors base their comments on previous experience (Tennant has played his part before on radio) but it obviously lacks the sense of perspective that three months in production can offer. But what is here, especially the diary in capturing the earliest moments between the new ensemble, will be a useful record for future scholars investigating the state of Shakespearean theatre in 2010s, perhaps in filling out their own editions with a theatrical history.

Much Ado About Nothing. Edited by Robert Hastie, Josie Rourke is published by Nick Hern Books. RRP: £6.99. ISBN: 9781848422001. Review copy supplied.

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