Pity poor Charles Edwards and Eve Best. No matter how well they do as Beatrice and Benedick, their Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe will inevitably be eclipsed by the West End production of the same play opening a week later which will reunite much-loved Doctor Who pair David Tennant and Catherine Tate.
Tate will be hard pressed to equal Best’s performance. Her return to the stage after international screen breakthroughs in The King’s Speech and the television series Nurse Jackie uses her twin strengths of intelligence and openness. She can make each one of Beatrice’s witticisms in her “merry war” with Benedick sound new-minted, and seem entirely unforced, even in the broader style that the Globe demands.
On press night, when Beatrice decides to be in love with Benedick after their friends have tricked each of them into eavesdropping on “news” about the other, Best crouched down and grasped the hands of one of the groundlings in front of her. What followed may be a regular bit of business, but from the gallery it looked as if the punter was holding on a little too fervently, so Best simply raised the stakes and built up to a full, joyous embrace.
Charles Edwards excels at urbane, easy-going humour but I had thought he would have to lift his game to match Best. In the event, Edwards can remain casual most of the time and only occasionally let Benedick’s discomposure show through in a variety of verbal tics. In contrast, Paul Hunter as Dogberry signals each of his character’s malapropisms with a verbal and physical signal reminiscent of Carry On actor Jack Douglas.
Jeremy Herrin, in his Globe directorial debut, hits the spot: he keeps the laughs coming but also finds room for some of the most intense drama I have seen here. The elderly Antonio’s fury at the false accusation of his niece Hero is usually played as an old dodderer making comic threats; here, John Stahl (looking for all the world like Karl Marx in vaguely Ottoman costume) summons up real menace.
And Beatrice and Benedick not only get a Globe cheer as they finally kiss, but a second as the snog just keeps on going. Beat that, Tennant and Tate.