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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
- Much Ado About Nothing – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Theatre review: Mingled passions in Stratford’s Much Ado About Nothing (arts.nationalpost.com)