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Tate Nabs Tennant

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Well, it's certainly a first. I can't remember a big West End production ever being announced on a Saturday morning, but my Blackberry blipped as I set about trying to fix the washing machine and other minor domestic tasks with the news that David Tennant and Catherine Tate will appear in Much Ado at the Wyndham's this May.

This sounds like smart commercial scheduling by producer Sonia Friedman, though it's not too long ago since Joseph Millson and Tamsin Greig played a successful West End season in the same play for the RSC.

But Tate and Tennant has a definite ring about it. And Much Ado is certainly a play that needs star comic acting in the leads, more so than most Shakespeare comedies. Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanamaker were a most unlikely match as Benedick and Beatrice at the National, but their performances turned out both hilarious and heart-breaking. You can certainly see Tennant and Tate going at it hammer and tongs.

The director is Josie Rourke, not a greatly experienced Shakespearian, though she has done a King John for the RSC and a Twelfth Night in Chicago. Is she taking a short sabbatical from the Bush, I wonder, or is this another sign of her imminent departure — to the Donmar, perhaps, or even the wild West End?

One thing that puzzled me 24 hours later, on Sunday morning, was the claim in the Sunday Times that the website selling tickets on Saturday had "apparently" crashed "under the demand," which seems frankly incredible, not to say unlikely.

The word "apparently" means the claim was unverifiable by the Sunday Times. So why give the claim house room? The New York Times would never do such a thing.

A cursory visit to the Delfont Mackintosh site (no longer "crashed") in question made it abundantly clear that tickets were readily availbale for all performances, even the first preview on 16 May. So who's kidding who?

Ah well, a bit of Barnum and Bailey sleight of hand razzmatazz — as attended Sonia Friedman's last big West End opening over the Christmas period, Legally Blonde — is all grist to the publicity mill, I daresay. But the combination of a sneaky weekend announcement and a giant claim for instant box office boom sounds a bit weird.

From an industry point of view, another surprise element in all this is that Much Ado won't be playing in a theatre owned by Howard Panter's ATG, the company that bankrolls Sonia Friedman; but Cameron Mackintosh's Wyndham's is arguably the loveliest playhouse in London (after the Haymarket) and perfect for Shakespeare — as the Donmar's glorious Twelfth Night proved a few seasons ago.   
While in the Bardic groove, I see that this year's Shakespeare Marathon and Half-Marathon are to be run on 8 May in Stratford-upon-Avon, two weeks after the birthday weekend.

The race day is usually part of the birthday weekend, but I daresay all the kerfuffle with the new theatre — not to mention a growing tension over fitting the athletes' routes around the service in Holy Trinity and the other birthday parades and events — has forced the issue. It's a shame, though, that the running and the flag-waving can't be kept in synch.

The other slight nuisance is that my training period for what will be my fifth Stratford half-marathon is cutting deeper into the year: still, I'm sure it will be worth it. I'm determined to break the two-hour barrier this time.

Pete Postlethwaite postscript: the actor is to be celebrated in a 50-minute documentary next Saturday night on BBC 2. An invitation to make a contribution, filmed in the Covent Garden Hotel on Friday, allowed me to articulate my final thoughts on the difference between Derek Jacobi and PP as King Lear: Jacobi's is an "official" version, whereas Postlethwaite's was unofficial, informal, irregular and full of surprises. It was also, in my view, far more moving.
The programme is being hastily compiled in Manchester, but the clips and memories should make a good programme, especially as the cast list includes Julie Walters, Alison Steadman, Ralph Fiennes, Baz Luhrmann, Miriam Margolyes and Bill Paterson.


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