In apologies for my TL;DR I shoved in a bunch of pretty pictures. They're all pilfered from Tumblr, so click the picture for the source. Part 1, the bit about the rest of the cast and the night we got the understudy, is over here.
BEATRICE/CATHERINE TATE: Beatrice is probably my favourite of Shakespeare's female characters. She has been since I first read the play. The text provides a character surprisingly nuanced and arguably the wittiest character in the cast, which is (sadly) refreshing for a female character in general but particularly notable from a play written in a time period when women weren't even allowed on stage. I've always enjoyed the character in the other productions I've seen, namely Sarah Parish and Emma Thompson.
BUT CATHERINE TATE. Hearts in my eyes. I adore her Beatrice; the lines about how merry Beatrice is were perfectly in tune with Catherine Tate's performance -- Beatrice really did seem to enjoy trolling the fuck out of everyone, and she didn't have the bitter edge that I think it'd be easy to put into Beatrice. She was flirty and fun and starts off seeming very carefree, but we see her gooey inside when she awkwardly rejects Pedro's proposal (which: I think this is the first time I've seen that scene played straight and srs instead of a lulzy joke between friends, and it was interesting) and again when she worries over poor Hero. Frances said something about how Catherine Tate has a really unique ability to seem fierce and in charge of the situation while simultaneously very vulnerable, and I think that's quite apt. Beatrice's use of humour as a defense mechanism comes out after Pedro's botched proposal, and there's a certain sadness to her in most of the second half of the play.
She was also quite hilarious, which should probably be obvious. I don't really get a majority of her sketch show stuff, but she was hysterical and very, well, her on stage. Actually one of my main criticisms of the production (SEE, I HAVE CRITICISMS, I R LITERATE THEATRE-GOER) is that the way they do the overhearing scene seems like a waste of Catherine Tate. They put Beatrice up on a wire, and most of the scene she's flailing up and down and it's quite hilarious but it's also more about Beatrice being stuck up on a wire than it is about Beatrice reacting to the news that Benedick "loves" her. I was really excited to see the array of Catherine Tate Facial Expressions while she reacted, and instead we mostly got her hidden by a sheet or swimming through the air. I think this is a shame, because Catherine Tate could've and would've nailed simple reaction shots and made them just as funny as going up and down on a wire. I read that one performance, she was feeling ill and didn't go up on the wire, and I'd be really curious to see how the scene was done without that blocking.
Also, on a shallow note, can I just say, Catherine Tate cleans up good? I mean, I never thought she was unattractive, but she is totally stunning in real life. Her hair was magical, we already knew she was well-endowed up top, I came away super envious of her legs, and she was wearing the hell out of all of those dresses. Killer figure. Ow ow.
BENEDICK/DAVID TENNANT: Strictly speaking Benedick is not usually my favourite. I like Beatrice a lot, and I find a lot of the Beatrice/Benedick sparring really amusing, but when I read the play I usually find myself rolling my eyes at Benedick quite a lot. In this production, though, I was extremely fond of David Tennant's Benedick. To be fair, I'm sure it doesn't hurt that I am very fond of David Tennant in general, but I think it was also because his Benedick is really kind of pathetic. You get the sense that no one really takes Benedick as seriously as he thinks they do, and I think treating Benedick as a bit of a joke makes it a lot easier to like the guy despite some of the dumb shit he says. The way Pedro and Claudio recite "I will die a bachelor" with an eyeroll in synch, or the way everyone pulls a face after Pedro is all "Benedick is not the unhopefullest husband I know!" knocks Benedick down a few pegs from the ~cool suave womanizer~ potential in the character. (It's sort of like how once upon a time Barney Stinson was likable because the text treated him as pathetic, and then the text tried to treat him as cool and it was terrible. But I digress.)
One of the things I do always generally find hilarious about Benedick, and something I think David Tennant did very very well, is Benedick's preoccupation with what people think of him and particularly his mountains of insecurities. It was hilarious. On closing night during one of the soliloquies following the Paint Scene the audience "awwwww"ed and he shot us this look of "hdu insult my manliness!" and puffed up his chest and basically it was everything I find hilarious and likable about this version of Benedick. Basically, the production's emphasis on Benedick's inability to realize how ridiculous he is was a big selling point for me. It also adds a whole other layer of humour to the character.
Plus, as shinyopals pointed out, David Tennant just plays the most adorable lovesick puppy and I am powerless in the face of it. The soliloquies that follow the paint scene are adorable (as was the interaction with/response to the audience) as is every starry-eyed look of adoration he sends Beatrice in all the subsequent scenes. It's just so cute!
He was also utterly hilarious. It was nice to see him be funny again, since I feel like it's been a while and that while has mostly been populated by things where he cries a lot. You could really see him soaking up the energy from the audience and their laughter, and Benedick's soliloquies were some of my very favourite parts of the whole play largely because of that connection and the way he was playing off it. It was pretty obvious how at home he felt on stage, and his look of childish glee during the bows every night was pretty much the most adorable thing I have ever seen, full stop.
Yeah, so um basically I thought he was flawless, which I'm sure surprises everyone.
Also, crashing the golf cart on closing night was just about the funniest thing I have ever seen. I will cherish the mental image of that whole thing forever.
BEATRICE/BENEDICK: Hahaha oh god I love their interaction and relationship. A lot of it is already there on paper; even when I read this play for class I was stunned by the relative degree of actual, idk, development and the total absence of 'love at first sight'. Of the plays I'm familiar with it's one of my favourite if not my very favourite romantic relationship he writes, and it's one of those storylines that manages to be universal enough to translate well into the 21st century. I mean, they're basically your proto-romcom couple and I'm pretty sure I've read like dozens of Lily/James fics with this same basic premise, LIRL.
Having said all that, obviously you still need good chemistry between your actors to sell it, and it's probably no surprise to anyone who's seen Doctor Who that David Tennant and Catherine Tate are brilliant together. They have amazing comedic chemistry and also both have the clout to pull off more serious scenes. I was familiar enough with the play to know this casting would be flawless and amazing the instant it was announced, and they did not disappoint. I want them in ALL THE THINGS together now. They're clearly besties so it's win/win for everyone, right?
I think the main task that falls to the production team with Beatrice/Benedick is taking the basic premise of "ha ha let's trick these idiots into loving each other!" and making it plausible that the relationship that develops is a happy ending for both characters the way the text implies. In other productions I've seen varying degrees of success at this, and worst case scenario I wind up still thinking Beatrice could do a hell of a lot better. But I think the chemistry between David Tennant and Catherine Tate, as well as various acting and directing decisions, goes a long way to selling me on the idea that Beatrice and Benedick are actually a very good match.
One of the things I loved about their dynamic in this production is that basically all of the power seems to be with Beatrice. It feeds into what I was saying earlier, about no one taking Benedick very seriously (and for that matter the genuine merriment in Catherine Tate's Beatrice) -- if they do, and he's this suave ladies' man character, and Beatrice seems bitter and jilted by a past love (sometimes Benedick himself), we sort of wind up in a whole host of tropes I'm not that keen on. But here, I'd say Beatrice was very much always the one in control. She seems wholly unaffected by Benedick's jibes early on, while Benedick on the other hand gets supremely offended by everything she says. I love all of their interaction in the costume party scene; Benedick goes up to Beatrice in disguise and talks shit to her face without owning up to the insults -- and then when Beatrice reciprocates (and I must say I'm completely convinced she 100% knows who she's talking to) he FLIPS OUT and storms off in a huff. Hahahaha, Benedick. And then later on, when he rants to Pedro about what a big bad meanie she is and she overhears him, he scurries away in intimidation and fear of her rapier wit. It's awesome, and pretty much sums up everything I love about their portrayals of these characters -- Beatrice is a fierce HBIC and Benedick is a sensitive idiot who is all talk.
I think the other part that made it so believable to me was that they managed to successfully convince me there may have been some pre-existing interest between the two, at least on Benedick's end. One of my favourite deliveries in the whole thing comes in the scene where Benedick is listing off what he wants in his dream woman and he wraps up by saying "her hair shall be re... what colour it please God". Ahahahaha. We're all onto you, Benedick. The fact that he gets so terribly offended by all the jokes she makes at his expense feeds into this. BEATRICE'S OPINION IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT but don't tell her that.
Watching them awkwardly dance around each other in the second half of the play was definitely quite fun as well. The scene in the church flips back and forth between comedy and seriousness quite well, and I particularly love them chasing each other around the stage. I love the scene on the lawn chairs -- Benedick is hilarious with the toy piano, Beatrice continues to have the upperhand and they're generally adorable. And then THE PROPOSAL is hysterical and I love it; the way she immediately looks mortified and gestures for him to get up off one knee, the way he awkwardly tries to shove the ring behind his back, their faces while they read each other's shitty poetry -- AWESOME. Also, they both look so fab in this scene. Grateful 4eva that there was a convenient funeral scene to put Benedick in a suit, tbh.
This post is already MASSIVE and I think I've basically said most of what I have to say, so I will wrap this up. The conclusion is that it is awesome and I feel very lucky to have seen it. David Tennant and Catherine Tate work wonderfully together and should be in ALL THE THINGS, and I want them to release the recorded version ASAP so I can watch it a dozen more times.