Spotlight: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING in the West End

Much Ado About Nothing (jacket)This month we published the official tie-in edition to the West End production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing – starring David Tennant as Benedick and Catherine Tate as Beatrice. Directed by Josie Rourke (who’ll shortly be moving to the Donmar Warehouse from her current job as Artistic Director of the Bush Theatre), the production is undoubtedly the summer’s hottest ticket. Our book includes the version of Shakespeare’s text being used in the production, along with exclusive material about the production, including interviews with the cast and creative team, design sketches, sheet music and a rehearsal diary by Associate Director Robert Hastie. Read on for extracts from his fascinating behind-the-scenes commentary on the making of a West End hit…

Monday 4th April 2011
‘I learn in this letter…’ The read-through has started. Standing in a big circle in the rehearsal room in West London are the cast of Much Ado About Nothing – and what a handsome bunch they are. Leo Staar, as the Messenger, is having his first encounter with Catherine Tate’s Beatrice. Read-throughs are often an actor’s least favourite bit of the rehearsal process, and can frequently be muted affairs with everyone mumbling and burying themselves in their scripts, scared to make any choices that may be used in evidence against them at a later date. But Catherine, Leo and Jonathan Coy as Leonato dive straight in with reassuring courage, and everyone follows suit. Five minutes in, the company are already making each other laugh. Which is fortunate considering, as Josie points out, they will be spending the whole summer together…

‘Strike up, pipers!’ says David Tennant, and the read-through is over. Rob Jones, the designer, shows us his model of the set and takes us step by step through the various locations his terrifically versatile design can achieve. The younger actors gather round, marvelling at the detail of the tiny model sun loungers, while the older ones quietly calculate where they’ll make their first entrance. Technology being what it is these days, we are also able to see a big-screen presentation showing the movement of the set from one scene to the next. The company are intrigued by what appears to be a mobile disco unit in Act Two, Scene One…

The first day of rehearsals can feel like the first day of school. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and you’re alone and nervous and wondering why you wore these shoes, and surely they never meant to cast you at all and were actually thinking of that other actress called Jenny who’s got the same agent. It’s hard to believe at this point that in only a few weeks’ time you’ll feel like the best of friends.

Wednesday 6th April
We start the day by testing some hardware. The production team has been here since seven o’clock constructing the giant revolving floor that will form the centre of the set. Jordan, the Assistant Stage Manager, plays with the controls; it will be his job to operate them during performance. In order to test how fast the revolve can go with the whole cast on it, everyone in the room climbs aboard, and as not all of the company have arrived yet, the staff of the Bush Theatre are recruited from their office upstairs to make up the body count. We all stand round the edge of the revolving disc as Jordan turns up the dial. Maximum speed is hardly a ride on the waltzers, but the novelty of it still has us grinning like children.

Josie has decided not to spend several days sitting around a table examining the text as some directors do, and as she herself has done in the past – instead we will unpick each scene as we come to it, working on the text and then getting the scene on its feet in the same session. Of all Shakespeare’s plays, the language of Much Ado is among the most accessible to us today, and there is little that is obscurely archaic. The actors in Act One, Scene One stand in a circle, their scripts placed in front of them on music stands, and we begin.

Friday 8th April
The rest of the company arrive at eleven o’clock, and as it’s the first time the whole acting company has come together in one room, we take a moment to talk about spray tans. The play is set in a Mediterranean world of blue skies and sunshine, and it makes sense that the people in it look as if they’ve spent some time in the sun. The guys from the hair and make-up department are here to meet everyone, and some of the cast (those more experienced than others in the dark arts of artificial tanning) become enthusiastic about the possibility of having our own spraying booth in the theatre. There is much talk of exfoliation and top-up lotions, and a few bewildered, fearful faces among the male members of the company.

Talking of tans, it’s the first beautiful day of the year. Several of the company sit on the grass outside to eat lunch, and when it’s time to start work again, there are mutterings along the lines of ‘Miss, can we do the lesson outside?’ But back in the rehearsal room, much excitement greets the reappearance of George the movement director, armed with an iPod full of ’80s dance classics. It’s one of the most entertaining afternoons in a rehearsal room any of us can remember, as the company get to grips with all the popping, pointing and posturing they’ve gleaned from their homework assignments. Bonnie Tyler’s ‘I Need a Hero’ blares out, and George teaches everyone the ‘running man’. It’s a joyous end to the first week, and with a bit of luck will keep our spirits buoyant as we move on to the darker scenes in the play’s second half…

Nick Hern Books publish the official tie-in edition alongside the production at Wyndham’s Theatre, London, playing from 16th May to 3rd September 2011. To purchase your copy with free P&P (UK customers only) click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout.

Click here to visit the production’s website.