This picture isn't actually very good but I TOOK IT MY OWN SELF which makes it special, clearly.
I ended up going to see the show thrice. Initially I had tickets to two showings, but when I got to England shinyopals was all "hey wanna try for the lottery" and naturally my response was "DOES IT NEED SAYING?" and we were lucky enough that we both got tickets to the evening show on my first full day in London. Presumably this was karmic balance for the fact that the next show, where we had shiny expensive 4th row seats, we got David Tennant's understudy, Alex Beckett. lol forever, I would. BUT I can't really complain because I did get to see it twice with everyone in their normal roles, including the final performance.
THE CAST (SAVE TENNANT & TATE): I think Don Pedro was actually my favourite of the supporting cast -- some of his reaction shots and a couple of his deliveries would just have me rolling. The face he makes after Benedick's "TALK NOT OF HER" and also his kicked-puppy expression when Beatrice shuts him down were both great. Pedro is a bit of a dick in the text, but basically everyone with a penis in this play is a douchebag, so that's... fine... I guess. And hey, he's not as bad as Claudio, right?
I grew quite fond of the actor playing Claudio, and though Claudio as a character is almost wholly unlikable I liked the way the actor played him, sort of suitably young enough to be that much of an idiot, and enough of a bro to have good interaction with Pedro and Benedick. Unfortunately no amount of fondness for the actor could salvage his mourning church scene, or indeed any scene where Claudio is torn up~ over Hero, because Claudio/Hero is just the worst. Props to you for squeezing out those tears on stage, dude, but your character is a dick. Anyway, his "OCH, AYE" when pretending to be Benedick on closing night slayed me, easily the biggest laugh he got out of me for any line on any night, so well done bro.
I liked Don John, the skeevy ratlike voice worked well for the character. I mean, on the other hand, it's one of those "lol why is anyone trusting the stereotypically skeevy character who speaks like a Disney villain?" moments, but it's Shakespeare so you know.
Dogberry on the other hand ughhhhhhhhhh, I never like the character on paper, I skip his scenes when reading because he's so tedious (har), and while he got some laughs out of me the first time on stage, the second and third performances I just wanted him to go. Granted, part of this is because all of his scenes (and much of the second half of the play) leave me going NO1CURR, WHERE ARE BEATRICE AND BENEDICK??? but it doesn't help that the Dogberry character is just... not... very good. Or funny. Or... yeah.
The sad thing about this play is that as much as I think Beatrice is one of Shakespeare's best women, the rest are really kind of meh. Hero is... well, she was cute, but Hero as a role is just not one with a lot of meat or substance or intrigue and I think even a more experienced actress than the one in this production would have a difficult time making much of the character. This production chose to use Innogen (Leonato's wife), rather than Antonio, and I liked this decision because what Shakespeare plays do not need more of is pointless old white guys. So Antonio was not missed and Innogen's challenge to Claudio worked better than Antonio's because it was more motherly love and less RRR I R MAN I HAVE HONOURRRR. Margaret was alright; I am vaguely fond of the character from the text alone and her shamelessness about her lack of ~purity~, and her shipper squeal over Beatrice/Benedick was pretty funny. Ursula, played by Catherine Tate's understudy, was quite hilarious with the little material she was given. I'd be curious to see her in the Beatrice role opposite Alex Beckett, although I am obviously thankful 4ever that I got Catherine Tate all 3 nights.
THAT TIME WE SAW THE UNDERSTUDY: SO we got the second night of Alex Beckett, which meant that we went into the show with the knowledge that we could well be getting an understudy. It was unfortunate, but since we'd both a) already seen the play properly and b) were going again, it wasn't the end of the world. I do feel bad for anyone who trekked out to see it specifically for David Tennant just the once and got the understudy, and then I thought a bit about Hamlet and that whole mess. It's probably sort of fitting that I ended up getting an understudy that night, seeing as ever since I bought the damn tickets back in January I'd been very concerned that would happen and I had reasoned with myself that even if one of them spontaneously combusted, hopefully I'd still have the other one.
And indeed we still had Catherine Tate. They send out poor Catherine to announce it at the start of the play, which was unfortunate but also a little adorable. She was very sweet about it, and the audience took it relatively well. Someone in the audience made a "PFFFT WHO CARES" noise in jest when she announced David Tennant wasn't in, and Catherine went "pffft, yeah, we all prefer Matt Smith anyway!" WHICH... I mean, Catherine Tate making a Doctor Who joke live ten feet in front of me is basically a life goal I didn't realize I had, and basically the next best thing to actually seeing David Tennant live, so ty for that, Catherine Tate. And then someone in the audience shouted "WE'VE STILL GOT YOU!" and everyone cheered which was adorable.
Anyway, Alex Beckett was very talented, but I mean, I did not get on a transatlantic flight to see Alex Beckett in a play with Catherine Tate, so I'd be lying if I said I didn't spend the first twenty minutes sort of trying to come to terms with my disappointment. Where I had previously divided my attention between Beatrice and Benedick, in scenes with both of them in this production my eyes were on Beatrice 100% of the time unless Benedick happened to be standing close enough to her. I felt bad though because you could tell the audience was having trouble warming up to him, and scenes that got big laughs with David Tennant would get quiet murmurs at best -- until we got to the Paint Scene. The Paint Scene is hysterical in its own right, but Alex Beckett killed it (especially with a well-timed silent "FUCK!" at the audience) and that sort of loosened everyone up and got people laughing and warming up to him and removed a bit of the tension in the air. So that was nice, and from then on things went a bit smoother for him, and he even got in some good audience interaction in the soliloquy afterwards.
All in all I think Alex Beckett's Benedick is a little different than David Tennant's... as you might expect, them being different actors. Alex Beckett's, to me, was a bit more frat boy and a bit less insecure manchild. To be honest his relationship with Beatrice was a bit closer to how I typically imagine it, which is to say Benedick having zero interest until he overhears Claudio, Leonato and Pedro, then thinking "hey, I could do worse" and deciding to clean up his act a bit for her if only to prove that he can. He worked well with Catherine Tate, but at the same time you could tell they're not quite the well-oiled machine that she and David Tennant were by this point; things like crumpling up each other's poems and tossing them aside weren't done perfectly in synch, for instance.
The whole thing left me with a new appreciation for how tough it must be to be a major understudy, though. I MEAN... you know the whole audience is rooting against you and disappointed by your mere presence, plus you don't get as many chances to rehearse and get comfortable in the role. Yikes. Sorry, Alex Beckett. For what it's worth, I liked you way more than understudy!Borrachio.
OVERALL: I was completely and utterly dazzled and in hysterics every time and would definitely have seen it a dozen more times given the opportunity. I could try to be objective, but we all know that can't really happen. But I will say that I was already familiar with Much Ado About Nothing and had remembered it as one of my favourites of the plays we'd covered in my Elizabethan Shakespeare class, so I was well-aware of the story and its virtues and failings as well as being able to appreciate in advance the flawless casting. I had really fond memories of Beatrice and Benedick -- particularly Beatrice -- and distinctly unfavourable memories of Claudio and Hero, so I think I went in with fair expectations.
Like most of the Shakespeares I've read and then seen, seeing a good production gave me a much better appreciation for the text itself. I remember sniggering at some of the Beatrice/Benedick lines on paper back in class, but nothing brings a comedy to life like a live performance. The unfortunate side-effect is that while I'm now very very fond of Much Ado About Nothing as a play, I'm also pretty sure the definitive version has now been set in my brain and any subsequent production I watch will be at an automatic disadvantage. The only other Shakespeare comedy I've seen on stage is Twelfth Night, and it was likewise hilarious, and TBH I think I need to start going to more of them because they can be so funny. I love me some Shakespeare dramas too, but live comedy is just so great. Next on my list is Love's Labour's Lost.