While Much Ado has been made of the Doctor Who teaming of Tennant and Tate in the West End, Shakespeare’s Globe has quietly put together a joyful production of the Bard’s comedy on the South Bank.
It might not have the fanfare and hoopla of the production across the river, and none of its performers have ever made a living travelling through time and space in a blue police box, but this Much Ado About Nothing is as enjoyable an evening of witty banter and troubled love as you could hope to find.
Much of the reason for this lies with the show’s leads, Charles Edwards (Benedick) and Eve Best (Beatrice). As they tell the tale of verbal sparring partners who discover a love for each other, they deliver comments more barbed than security fence wire yet manage to remain entirely endearing. There is little malicious about them, rather deep down they always know their true feelings and rarely push their taunting further than sport.
The show is at its most compelling when either or both are at the centre of Mike Britton’s orange tree-bowered set, working the Globe’s enthusiastic crowd with the panache of seasoned stand ups while never slipping out of character.
As the second half gets underway, there is almost the feeling that the subplots get in the way of performances that, under Jeremy Herrin’s direction, drove the first half along so engagingly. Paul Hunter ticks and parps his way through the comic interludes of the night constable Dogberry, who somehow unravels the nefarious plot of Don John (a fabulously wild-eyed Matthew Pidgeon with a scowl tattooed across his face) to thwart the wedding of young lovers Hero and Claudio.
It is Don John’s intervention that invites despair and depression into the previously jubilant court of Joseph Marcell’s Leonato, who is transformed from first half pussy cat to a second half lion by the evil ruse.
Before making my way to the Globe, I was concerned about the storm clouds that had given London, and the show’s matinee performance, an afternoon drenching. As it happened, the sky cleared for the evening, though I suspect even if it had poured down with a vengeance, the Much Ado audience, even the groundlings, would have left the theatre smiling.