Transforming Messina into 1980s Gibraltar, Josie Rourke's Wyndham's Theatre production of Much Ado About Nothing reunites Doctor Who David Tennant with his old assistant Catherine Tate.

Critics were quick to compare the production, which opened last night (1 June, previews from 16 May 2011), to Shakespeare's Globe's staging which opened on the South Bank only last week, most praising the comedy infused into Rourke's "populist" interpretation, but concluding the Globe's "traditional" offering the stronger of the two.

Amongst the Wyndham's supporting cast - all too often overlooked in this star-driven revival - Elliot Levey's Prince John draws praise in all the reviews. Tenant and Tate are also joined in the cast by John Ramm, Jonathan Coy, Sarah MacRae, Nicholas Lumley and Tom Bateman.

Much Ado About Nothing continues its limited West End season at the Wyndham's Theatre until 3 September 2011.


Maxwell Cooter
Whatsonstage.com
★★★

"There's little doubt as to what the theatrical event of the year is going to be ... Director Josie Rourke has set the play in the 80s ... It is frantically paced and staged with some panache, but the garden scene, where Beatrice overhears about Benedick's love, doesn't work for me ... The masses will come to see Tennant and he's certainly worth it... we also get to see him dressed as Madonna and up to frantic business with some white paint. But Tate's Beatrice doesn't fare so well. She's more than a match for the repartee and her verbal jousting with Benedick is a delight, but she doesn't capture the sensitivity underneath... it's like hearing a love scene spoken by Dick Emery. There's some sterling support. Jonathan Coy is a smooth Leonato ... I like John Ramm's Rambo-inspired Dogberry too, rather less dumb than usual. The revelation for me was Elliot Levey's Prince John, all too often a cypher, offering little explanation for his villainy ... Theatrical events often turn to be let-downs. This is far from a disappointment and Tennant is a Benedick to be cherished; I feel that it could have been better though – not that the crowds will be bothered."

Michael Billington
Guardian
★★★★

"Since... this is the second Much Ado in five days, comparisons are inevitable... this West End revival is 20 minutes shorter, more socially specific and much sexier. The pairing of David Tennant as Benedick with Catherine Tate... pays off superbly. They are helped by Josie Rourke's decision to set the action in early 1980s Gibraltar ... Rourke here interpolates a whole new hen-party scene ... One of Shakespeare's most clumsy plot devices suddenly acquires credibility ... While I like the production's colourful circumstantial detail, one of Rourke's ideas misfires. Seeking to show Claudio's penitence over his mistreatment of Hero, Rourke has him attempting suicide at her tomb ... Tate and Tennant give just the right suggestion that their byplay is the product of some past bruising encounter. Tennant is especially good ... Tate gives an excellent account of Beatrice ... They are at the centre of a supremely well-cast production in which Elliott Levey as a closeted Don John, Tom Bateman and Sarah MacRae as a vibrantly attractive Claudio and Hero and John Ramm as a hamfisted Dogberry all make their mark ... An evening that suggests the Tate-Tennant partnership should be pursued. Why not try their hand at Restoration comedy or Coward's Private Lives?"

Paul Taylor
Independent
★★★

"It would hard to conceive of a more gloriously engaging portrayal Benedict than the one David Tennant is now offering in Josie Rourke's production of Much Ado About Nothing ... Revelling in... his native Scots tones, Tennant seems to subsume the functions of stand-up and top-flight classical actor ... I regret to report, though, that, in most other respects, this indoor, proscenium-arch account of the play fails to match – in confidence, sprezzatura, warmth of wit, or understanding of the heart – the version that opened last week at Shakespeare's Globe ... Beatrice is portrayed by Tennant's old comrade in the Tardis, Catherine Tate ... This Beatrice, sporting dungarees, puts a distance between herself and her true emotions by adopting 'funny' voices and retreats behind a squawking headless chicken routine of excitement ... Tate dangling in the air in a decorator's harness takes one no further into the character ... It's important that Beatrice and Hero live in a household with no older female authority figure. Rourke invents a mother for Hero and equips the character with the scant lines assigned to the uncle in the play ... It's typical of a production that is over-interpreted and insufficiently thought-through."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph
★★★★

"David Tennant doesn’t arrive on stage in a Tardis... but... on a golf buggy... in a show that undoubtedly does some spectacular time travelling. Catherine Tate is... Beatrice, who frequently looks on the brink of delivering a sulky 'Am I bovvered?' ... Purists will doubtless baulk, but there is an outstanding traditional production of Much Ado now playing at the Globe, and Rourke’s production has a freshness and wit about it that is often irresistible ... Tennant... speaks the language with Scottish-accented clarity, and proves highly sympathetic but never ingratiating. I have reservations about Tate, however ... She often seems downright rude rather than amusing, and hysterical rather than funny ... Among the supporting cast Tom Bateman gives a coruscating performance of sexual jealousy and remorse as Claudio, Elliot Levey is a superbly villainous Don John... and John Ramm is that rare thing, a genuinely funny Dogberry ... Rourke’s production has a bubbling sense of mischief that darkens into chilling violence in the wedding scene. This, in short, is populist Shakespeare with both intelligence and heart."

Julie Carpenter
Daily Express
★★★★

"There has already been much ado about the theatrical pairing of David Tennant and Catherine Tate ... Tennant is certainly on great sparring form as Benedick ... Tate, in her Shakespeare debut, excels most when she’s being scornful... and she milks the slapstick in her eavesdropping scene ... Her performance lacks a little nuance and her character some vulnerability ... Their chemistry is surprisingly not the best thing about Josie Rourke’s exuberant production, which actually gains great momentum and fun from being set in the hedonistic Eighties ... If anyone wants to see Tennant disguised as Miss Piggy, now is their chance ... Elliot Levey is a ball of composed malevolence as a camp Don John, who even offers cigarettes to children ... Overall this wonderfully accessible production is a bit like the decade it’s set in: Brash and over the top but with the power to totally draw you in. A winner."

Libby Purves
The Times
★★★

"Josie Rourke, who uses a naval base in Gibraltar as Shakespeare’s Messina, even squeezes in a Rubik’s Cube and a Casio keyboard. For the masked ball David Tennant’s Benedick wears a Lily Savage wig and a micro-mini ... Catherine Tate mainly slobs about in dungarees, deploying her trademark slouch ’n’ sneer to counter Tennant’s sarcastic Scottish drawl ... It’s reasonable fun, though I have to say that the Globe’s endearing production... made me laugh more and believe more ... In this production subtlety is sidelined in favour of laughs ... It gets a young audience hooting and whistling ... Result: a new generation is wooed ... Tate does well with Beatrice’s scorn, and Tennant makes Benedick dafter than usual to cover up the fact that his conversion is barely credible ... John Ramm’s Dogberry, in a forage cap and ill-fitting fatigues, leads his Dad’s Army patrol with welcome briskness. So, quite fun; but not a production that will be remembered."

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail
★★★

"You can kill trees by driving a copper nail into their barks. You can murder drama by letting fashion run rampant at the expense of theatrical commitment ... Happily, David Tennant is a decent enough actor to overcome the show-offy tendencies of his director ... Benedick's non-girlfriend Beatrice (Catherine Tate) is slouchy in the modern way: slack-hipped, sunglasses in her hair, a packet of Camel cigarettes in hand. She is far from likeable ... Benedick and Beatrice are so sarcastic that it is hard to see how anyone could find them attractive ... There are successes. The gentlemen of the watch are terrific, thanks to John Ramm's Dogberry and Nicholas Lumley's Seacoal. Beefcake Tom Bateman, still at drama school, has a strong professional debut ... The gulling scene when Benedict eavesdrops on his friends is done with gusto ... One almost forgives this Benedick his angular Scots accent ... It is all head-on, commercial, insistent - yet just a little soulless, and not as good as the rival Much Ado currently showing at the Globe. When you have a star as big as David Tennant, there is no need to be quite so remorselessly low-brow."