The Doctor and Donna do Shakespeare

Tennant and Tate are an exuberant Benedick and Beatrice.

Anyone who knows their Elizabethan bawdy will tell you that Much Ado About Nothing is far from the insouciant "romantic nonsense" that George Bernard Shaw supposed it to be. Nothing equals no thing, or the female pudenda. And in Much Ado there is a price on punani, since a woman's rumoured infidelity - specifically her supposed loss of virginity - has terrible and shocking repercussions.

But we don't come to the Wyndham's theatre to explore the dark side of Elizabethan gender politics! We come for David Tennant and Catherine Tate, who play the lovers Benedick and Beatrice, the sub plot-that-thinks-it's-a-plot. For the Shakespeare-averse, their unfinished business as Doctor 'n' Donna will surely give us a handle on what's going on; and if not, the programme is at hand, which obligingly explains that the lovers' relationship is a bit like Ross and Rachel's in Friends.

The question is whether such courting of the common denominator pays off. And broadly, I would say that it does.

Director Josie Rourke throws one further comfort blanket our way, by transposing the action from sixteenth century Messina to 1980's Gibraltar, with the soldiers/sailors newly returned from the Falklands campaign. Whilst the cut of its Gib might not be clear - the surroundings just look creamily Marbella - the show positively screams 1983. At the masked ball, the characters make like Adam Ant, Miss Piggy or Princess Leia. Lady Di's whipped wedding dress makes an appearance, and the men are all fully Top Gunned out in aviator specs and super-tight white trousers. The music, too, is given an eighties makeover, with all the hey nonnys made electro-grooves.

Though Rourke hasn't attracted as much ire as Deborah Warner has in recent weeks for traducing Sheridan (she got the critical equivalent of a tarring and feathering), putting Shakespeare in a ra-ra skirt has nonetheless made critics very cross. And to be sure, the concept is not a tight fight: the sex and sangría mood (bridegroom Claudio gets a lap-dance at his stag; his bride Hero a strip-o-gram at hers) leads rather improbably to the play's puritanical hangover, in which the flinty patriarchs react more strongly to the news of Hero's "innocence" than they do to the news of her death. Some directorial interventions were plain baffling, like Rourke's decision to turn Hero's uncle into her mother.

But sometimes a mismatch releases great frictive energy, and this is what happens here. The show is hard to beat for sheer exuberance, boosted by some well-turned cameos from Adam James as the quietly sexy Don Pedro, Elliott Levey as the still point of villainy and John Ramm, who plays Dogberry like a bumbling neighbourhood watch turned renegade vigilante.

As for the star-struck casting - well, it's always fun to see TV lags using a live audience as whetstone to make comic sparks fly. Tennant does twerp hilariously well, but also switches to a dignified sobriety when required, although his fans (the Who-philes being out in force) were determinedly laughing at all of his lines. Tate plays for laughs, apparent from her very first line: "Is Signor Mountanto returned from the wars" (unfeasibly long pause)..."or no?" Her trick of hiding behind voices is entirely appropriate to the role, and she makes a plausible, if chippy, Beatrice.

Perhaps occasionally the pull towards laughter skews the scene - in particular their declaration of mutual love at Hero's ruined wedding-cum-wake - and perhaps not all Tate's slapstick is deliriously funny.

But the Shakespearean clan can be, well, clannish about newcomers, and new things in general (God's holy trousers, a comedienne, with no RSC training!). I suspect the wily old Bard wouldn't have been the least bit bovvered. He might, however, have felt pretty pissed off at George Dillon's solo-show The Man Who Was Hamlet, at the Riverside Studios, which hypothesises that the plays were actually written by Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford. Shakespeare makes an appearance, but as an illiterate oaf.

Dillon gamely takes us through the events and people in de Vere's life - with a slightly chugging literalism - which might have inspired the creation of a Gertrude or a Polonius. It's like doing a Stratford wordsearch (or Where's Wally), with the famous lines and characters embedded in enthusiastic Elizabethan pastiche.

Sole performers are super-exposed to our scrutiny, and there's plenty of time for irritants to kick in, like the Tudor-tinnitus soundtrack, or the snapped elastic on Dillon's velveteen pantaloons. But the show's journeyman charm is a tonic, of sorts, to West End dyspepsia. Maybe just fix that elastic.

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Britain's diversity crisis starts with its writers. Here's why

What happens on the casting couch draws the headline, but the problem starts on the page, says James Graham. 

I’m a playwright and screenwriter, which – pertinent to the issues we’ll be discussing in this enquiry – still feels weird to say. I get embarrassed, still, saying that, in a taxi or hairdressers. I don’t know why I still carry that insecurity about saying I’m a writer, but I do, because it sounds like I’m lying, even in my own head.

Obviously I’m completely biased, and probably overstating the influence and importance of my own profession, but I think so many of the problems surrounding lack of representation in the performing arts start with writers.

If we aren’t encouraging and generating writers from certain communities, classes or backgrounds to tell their stories, to write those roles, then there’s not going to be a demand for actors from those communities to play them. For casting agents or drama schools to prioritise getting diverse actors on stage. We need to create those plays and TV dramas –like the ones that I grew up with. I didn’t have any access to much theatre until I was fifteen, but I did have Boys From the Black Stuff, and I did have Cracker, and I did have Band of Gold. I think the loss of those regional producing bodies – Central, Granada – now all completely centralised into London, means that we just tell less of those stories. I remember a TV show called Boon – anyone? – which was set in Nottingham, and I would see on the TV streets I’d walked down, and think, Oh my God, that actor is walking down a street I’ve walked down. That sounds like it’s insignificant. If you’re from a town that is deprived, that feels ignored, it isn’t.

I was very lucky that at my school (which was, at the time, the largest comprehensive school in the country), from the headmaster down to the drama teachers, everyone just believed that working class kids should do plays. Be in plays, read plays, perform plays to the community. Both inside the curriculum of the school day, and outside it – drama teachers dedicating their time to staying behind. Our head of drama identified a group of us who clearly had a passion for it. We weren’t likely thesps. One lad’s entire family were made unemployed when the pit closed. Many lived on the big council estate. My parents and step-parents worked respectively in warehouses, the local council, or as the local window cleaner (incidentally, my first real job. Which I was terrible at).

Our drama teacher was encouraged and determined enough to launch the first ever Drama A-Level in our school. Based on that, about 10 or 12 of us got the confidence – or arrogance – to take our own show to the Edinburgh Festival. We were 16 or 17, and the first people in our community to ever go to visit the festival. We did a play up there, and after that, a psychological unlocking happened, where I thought: maybe I could do a degree in drama (it was the first time I had ever thought to do so) at university (the first in my family to go. Well, joint-first. My twin sister went on the same day, but I walked into my digs first).

I enrolled in drama at Hull University. A high proportion of my peers were middle class. A higher proportion from London or the South East. They talked often about institutions I had never heard of. They were talking about the National Theatre: I didn’t know we had a national theatre that my parents had been paying tax for that I had never been to. Many had performed with the (again, apparently) ‘National’ Youth Theatre, also in London. Paul Roseby, also on this panel, has made such leaps forward in getting the NYT producing in regional venues, and making auditions possible for people across the UK, but unfortunately, at the time, that wasn’t the case for me – and I was the ideal candidate to be in the National Youth Theatre.

I started writing because I had the confidence after I read texts by people like Jim Cartwright, Alan Bennett, John Godber, Alan Ayckbourn: Northern writers, working class writers that made me think it wasn’t just something that other people do.

After returning home, and working at local theatres, I moved down to London. I had to. The major new writing producers are there. All the TV companies are there. The agents are there. I was lucky to find support in a pub fringe theatre – though the economics meant there was no money to commission, so I wrote plays for free for about four years, that would get produced, and reviewed in the national press, while I worked various jobs in the day and slept for a time on a mate's floor. The first person to ever pay to commission me to write a play was Paul Roseby of the National Youth Theatre. I’m now very lucky to be earning a living doing something I love. In a way, compared to actors, or directors, it’s easier for writers who don’t come from a background that can sustain them, financially, in those early years. Your hours can be more flexible. Yes, it was annoying to miss rehearsals because I had a shift in a call centre, but it was still possible to do it. If you’re an actor or director, you’re fully committed. And if you’re doing that for nothing, there starts to be cut-off point for those from backgrounds who can’t.

I’m sure that local and regional theatres are the key to drawing in talent from less privileged backgrounds. But the range of national arts journalism that cover work outside London has been so significantly reduced. In our little echo chamber a few weeks ago, we theatre types talked about Lyn Gardner at the Guardian. Her coverage has been cut, which is very directly going to affect her ability to cover theatre shows outside of London – and so the self-fulfilling cycle of artists leaving their communities to work exclusively in London takes another, inevitable, turn.

I am culpable in this cycle. I have never done a play at the Nottingham Playhouse, my local producing house growing up – why? Because I’ve never submitted one, because I know that it will get less national press attention. So I just open it in London instead. That’s terrible of me. And I should just bite the bullet and say it doesn’t matter about the attention it gets, I should just go and do a story for my community. And if I, and others, started doing that more, maybe they will come.

I also want to blame myself for not contributing back to the state schools that I come from. I really really enjoy going to do writing workshops with kids in schools, but I would say 90 per cent of those that I get invited to are private schools, or boarding schools, or in the South of England. Either because they’re the ones that ask me, because they’re the ones who come and see my shows in London and see me afterwards backstage, or because they have the confidence to email my agent, or they have the budget to pay for my train ticket. Either way, I should do more. It would have helped the younger me so much to meet a real person, from my background, doing what I wanted to do.

I don’t know how to facilitate that. I take inspiration from Act for Change, creating a grassroots organisation. I know that there is a wealth of industry professionals like me who would, if there was a joined-up structure in place that got us out there into less privileged communities, we would on a regular basis go to schools who don’t get to meet industry professionals and don’t unlock that cultural and psychological block that working class kids have that says, that is not for me, that is something that other people do, I would dedicate so much of my time to it. That’s just one idea of hopefully better ones from other people that might come out of this enquiry.

James Graham is a playwright and screenwriter. This piece is adapted from evidence given by James Graham at an inquiry, Acting Up – Breaking the Class Ceiling in the Performing Arts, looking into the problem of a lack of diversity and a class divide in acting in the UK, led by MPs Gloria De Piero and Tracy Brabin.