The Theatreguide.London Review
Much Ado About Nothing
Lyttelton Theatre Summer 2022
The National Theatre production of Much Ado About Nothing directed by Simon Godwin is impressively stylish. The grand double-level art-deco set designed by Anna Fleischle dominates the central revolve which is regularly in motion, creating the bright lobby of the Hotel Messina, a beachfront, a church and other locations.
The costumes of silks and well-tailored suits are also striking. During the interval, another reviewer treated me to an account of the brilliance of the trousers.
The hotel dance band suggests a late 1930ís atmosphere with its moody soloist and upbeat dance numbers. Indeed the final moments of the show could easily have come straight from the musical Anything Goes.
But apart from the music, we are given no idea where or when the events we see are taking place. The war doesnít matter, the social hierarchy seems non-existent (the hotel manager Leonato happily walks arm in arm with his employees) and gender roles are uncomplicated. We even have Heroís mother Antonia (Wendy Kweh) dressed in a suit, flirting with another woman.
The pacing of Shakespeare's romantic comedy is constrained by the movements of the set and the actors certainly look incredibly awkward during the wedding ceremony.
The great strength of the production is John Heffernan as a reflective, good-hearted, slightly vulnerable Benedick.
Less effective is Katharine Parkinson as the most irritable Beatrice Iíve ever seen. She seems to generate more laughter from her expressions than the words of Shakespeare.
Although that irritability in the first half makes her supposed connection with Benedick seem unlikely, they are a convincing couple by the second half.
In general, the humour of the production is weak. There are the usual broad visual jokes of Benedick and Beatrice trying to overhear what friends are saying about them and the laboured verbal confusions of Dogberry (David Flynn), but much of the playful wit of the play seems to slide by.
More importantly, there is no social relevance in what we see and the horror of Heroís (Ioanna Kimbook) public humiliation and rejection is lost in a wedding scene in which there is some shouting so loud it as difficult to work out what is being shouted.
This is an entertaining show worth seeing, particularly for the performance of John Heffernan as Benedick, but it will not be remembered as one of the great productions of Much Ado About Nothing.
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