Judging by the crowds flocking outside the theatre entrance, there's little doubt as to what the theatrical event of the year is going to be. The reunion of David Tennant and his Dr Who co-star Catherine Tate create a buzz that's rarely created by a Shakespeare play.
Director Josie Rourke has set the play in the 80s – that decade of high-living for the moneyed classes. It's a chance to relive some awful fashions and I like the soft rock setting “Sigh no more ladies”. 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. There's lots of work with pulleys (the Globe uses pulleys in its recent production too – it must be this year's fashion) but it rather distracts from the text. There's also one big change, Leonato appears to have acquired a wife but lost a brother, not that it adds very much.
The masses will come to see Tennant and he's certainly worth it. This is a Benedick who's clearly a leader and yet who manages to reach into himself when he realises his love for Beatrice – 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. This is a woman who has already been hurt by Benedick and is understandably wary of him we see little of that.
The scene in the church, where Benedick declares his love for her is a fundamental turning point in the play. Tennant's “I do love nothing in the world as well as you, is that not strange” is spoken like a giant sigh, but Tate's protestations of love are masked by a succession of funny voices – it's like hearing a love scene spoken by Dick Emery.
There's some sterling support. Jonathan Coy is a smooth Leonato - although reacting with horror when Don Pedro mentions staying a month but roused quickly to anger when confronted with Hero's supposed shame. 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. But his whining, repressed homosexual suggests a reason for his malevolence, something sadly lacking in many productions.
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.