Pity poor Charles Edwards and Eve Best. No matter how well they do as Beatrice and Benedick, their Much Ado About Nothing
at Shakespeare’s Globe will inevitably be eclipsed by the West End
production of the same play opening a week later with David Tennant and
Catherine Tate in the same roles.
Tate will be hard pressed to equal Best’s performance. Her return to the stage after international screen breakthroughs in The King’s Speech
and the Showtime TV series Nurse Jackie
uses her twin strengths of intelligence and openness. She can make each
one of Beatrice’s witticisms in her “merry war” with Benedick sound
new-minted, and seem entirely unforced even in the broader style that
the Globe demands. On press night, when Beatrice decides to be in love
with Benedick after their friends have tricked each of them into
eavesdropping on “news” about the other, Best crouched down and grasped
the hands of one of the groundlings in front of her; what followed may
be a regular bit of business, but from the gallery it looked as if the
punter was holding on a little too fervently, so Best simply decided to
raise the stakes and built up to a full, joyous embrace.
Edwards excels at urbane, easygoing humour. I had thought he would have
to lift his game to match Best, but in the event Benedick can remain
casual most of the time and only occasionally let his discomposure show
through in a variety of verbal tics. This last is a trait too far for
Paul Hunter as Dogberry, who signals each of the character’s
malapropisms with a verbal and physical signal reminiscent of Carry On
actor Jack Douglas.
Herrin, in his Globe directorial début, hits the spot: he keeps the
laughs coming but also finds room for some of the most intense drama I
have seen here. The elderly Antonio’s fury at the false accusation of
his niece Hero is usually played as an old dodderer making comic
threats, but here John Stahl (looking for all the world like Karl Marx
in vaguely Ottoman costume) summons up real menace. And Beatrice and
Benedick not only get a Globe cheer as they finally kiss, but a second
as the snog just keeps on going. Beat that, Tennant & Tate.
Written for the Financial