Turning Teenagers On To Shakespeare – David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

English: Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Strat...

English: Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Will (the fourteen year old) and I are exploring comedy in Shakespeare this summer.  To begin with we are watching three different versions of “Much Ado About Nothing.” We viewed the one which was staged at the Wyndham Theatre last July on Digital Theatre, a few days ago.

David Tennant at Stratford upon Avon. This ima...

David Tennant at Stratford upon Avon. This image has been cropped from the original image. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The title of this post is Turning Teenagers Onto Shakespeare.  The reason for the title is that I believe that this version of “Much Ado About Nothing”, will get your teenager loving Shakespeare.  It might not seem important for teenagers to enjoy Shakespeare but it is on the curriculum and studying something which you enjoy is a whole lot better than having to put up with a subject which you detest.  I highly recommend buying a download of this and watching it with your teenager.  It is excellent. I have no association with Digital Theatre whatsoever, this post is written purely from the Loony Literature point of view of encouraging others to enjoy literature.  In this post I explain why I believe teenagers will enjoy it.

Catherine Tate 2006

Catherine Tate 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why would teenagers like this version of “Much Ado About Nothing”?  For a start, David Tennant plays Benedick and Catherine Tate is Beatrice.  At first glance, this can seem like a couple of very popular television actors from Doctor Who being hired to draw the crowds in.  However, I have to say that David Tennant is an accomplished Shakespearean actor. (His Hamlet is inspirational.)  He is so loved by the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) that £5,000 has been raised so that one of the seats in the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon is to be named after him.   Catherine Tate has done a fair bit of theatre also and has appeared in Goldoni’s “A Servant to Two Masters”, for the RSC.

Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy about love winning out in the end.  When we add that its main theme is deception then it starts to sound interesting.  This interpretation is set in 1980’s Gibraltar.  Most of the chaps are navy officers and are in a post Falklands party mood.  The plot is set around two couples. We have Hero and Claudio who are getting married but there is skulduggery afoot and Claudio is wrongly led to believe that Hero has been unfaithful to him. He makes a public spectacle of her at their wedding.   Also, we have Beatrice and Benedick who seem to be constantly sparring.  Benedick’s navy chums decide to bamboozle the pair of them into falling in love.

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing (Photo credit: psd)

Josie Rourke directed this and she deserves the heartiest slap on the back for getting it right.  By this, I mean taking the text and utilising it fully to demonstrate how approachable and contemporary Shakespeare can be.   Tennant is a master of comedy.  He gets covered in paint whilst eavesdropping which sounds rather clownish.  It isn’t.  It is done so well that we can’t help but hoot with laughter.  In Benedick’s monologues, there are moments when Tennant’s  whole persona cries out that he is having the time of his life and that is infectious – we as an audience feel that way too.

David Garrick (another David) as Benedick in 1770.

Catherine Tate plays Beatrice as a “don’t mess with me” type of gal.  I loved it.  The reason for this is that today’s girls will be able to identify with her.  It is often hard for teenagers  (I am speaking here as an ex teenager) to get to grips with the way women have been forced to be historically.  As a teenager, I would often have problems truly sympathising, let alone empathising,  with women in literature for the way in which they acted.  I wanted them to speak out and to act more.  I could turn blue at times urging some of them on to get more agency.   Sometimes I found them impossible to identify with.  It was only through years of both literary study and historical study that I could come to understand them and their motives.  So watching Tate as Beatrice truly felt like a breakthrough in getting  more teenage girls to identify with Shakespeare’s female characters.

When we are in our teens, because of raging hormones, we can often feel truly unattractive.  It seems as if everybody in the world is fancied by someone, except us.  We turn to fiction and film and often it is the handsomest, bravest hero who gets the chocolate box looking girl.  It can be soul destroying and do nothing for our confidence.  This performance of Much Ado About Nothing is the champion of the plain best friend.  Benedick dresses in drag and gets covered in paint –he certainly is no-one’s dark, silent hero.  Beatrice dresses as a man for a party and ends up flying in the air with the grace of a fairy elephant.  She is no gorgeous femme fatale or pale interesting type.  Yet she gets the boy.  The message is simply be yourself, no matter how clumsy and plain you feel , one day, someone will love you for you.  What teenager could resist that?

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (Photo credit: Newton Free Library)



Filed under Education, For children, For Teens, Inspiration and Us, Literary Criticism, Self Esteem and Literature, Shakespeare Diary

15 responses to “Turning Teenagers On To Shakespeare – David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

  1. Brilliant post – I so needed you in my earlier life! x

  2. mefinx

    It was a very entertaining production with DT particularly on top form, and I adored Claudio’s heavy-rocker rendering of “Pardon, Goddess of the Night.”

    Hamlet also was remarkable for the number of young people it attracted to Stratford. In fact, because the railway station is so far from the theatre, a good few of them ended up stranded overnight, prompting the RSC to petition the railway company to lay on an extra late service.

    • I’m glad that you also enjoyed it. I hadn’t realised that that had happened when DT played Hamlet. We have it on dvd and weren’t fortunate enough to see it live. It would be so wonderful if these performances could be taken around the country and virtually every school could attend – oh well – sweet dreams and all that stuff.

  3. Every time I come here to comment I forget to also say how much your book ‘Will And The Stinking Shadow’ inspires me – as does your work here. It’s such an unusual book; a very rare find!

  4. Unfortunately, real life is not like a Shakespearean play, so those of us who were born plain very rarely get the boy or girl, not matter how much we are trying to be ourselves (look at me and rest your case!). Great post. Personally, I can’t abide Catherine Tate and loathe anything with her in it, but I can very much relate to the female protagonist being displayed “historically” as a whimpering mess. It used to bug me no end when I studied literature and every time I watched telly growing up in the 60s and 70s, when women had practically no strong role models but where just shown as either damsels in distress or victims and sex objects. Being herself and finding Mr Darcy (rich or not), is just what Jane Austen’s Miss Elizabeth Bennett did.

    • What’s all this rubbish abut you being plain? You are an attractive, intelligent woman. Anyway, being plain doesn’t mean a girl won’t get a chap – there are lots more plain people in real life than in films or plays. I think the world would come to a standstill if only the very beautiful managed to find a mate. I smiled so much when I read what you said about C. Tate. The truth is I really did not like her at all until I saw her in this play. It totally changed my viewpoint of her. Hope you are well and changing the world.

      • I’m not changing the world in any positive way, just polluting it like everyone else I guess no matter how hard I try to keep my carbon footprints down. Not everyone, plain or not, will find a mate, no matter how much you’d like them to and no matter how much they are ture to “themselves”. There are people like myself who’ll never be attractive to anyone and that is real life, while in plays and in literature those of a true heart are invariably rewarded. I wouldn’t like Catherine Tate in anything, I loathe her voice for a start and whenever I’ve heard an interview with her I thought she was an utterly awful and not very bright woman.

      • This is hello from your friend who is wondering whether she should start building a boat. If someone like you can’t change the world, then I don’t know who can. You care about both people and animals and I think you are wonderful. I know everyone doesn’t find a mate – it’s not because they’re not attractive to the world – they just don’t seem to meet the same like minded people. Other people prefer to be on their own. It’s just the way they are. You are both lovely and attractive. As for C. Tate. I do understand what you mean – she had that effect on me and if I saw her in something else, I might not like her in it. However, she was damned good in that – if I thought she was good in it – she must be – I was definitely not a fan. Happy wellington boot day if you are in the same boat – what a bad pun.

      • Am drowning quietly in Wales. Hope you got the Twitter retweet from SFX magazine with all the escaped Dr Who monsters in Cardiff today, great stuff. As for attractiveness, some people, me included, simply aren’t attractive in any way whatsoever. There’s nothing I like about myself, and no doubt there’s lots of people in the world who just like me know that there’s nobody out there for them, because they are simply surplus to requirement. That’s reality, no matter how much friends might wish for my sake it would be different. Glad you enjoyed the show, even if it had C Tate in it.

      • No change on the swishing wetness here either. I haven’t seen the SFX twitter, thanks for pointing it out I will look for it. Hope everything is going well.

  5. I really want to read ‘Much Ado’ now!!! 🙂

    • You should try to watch it if possible. The David Tennant one is excellent. The Richard Branagh one is a more romantic version with a truly pastoral setting in Tuscany. We are looking forward to going to an open air live performance, a week today. Hope you manage to see one of them.

  6. Pingback: Shakespeare, Sexy Or Strangely Funny? | loonyliterature

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