Much Ado About Nothing at Lyttelton Theatre

It is, after all, called Much Ado About Nothing, so if one comes away thinking that not very much happened, has the production lived up to the play’s title? This version isn’t always easy to follow – I refer specifically to Act IV Scene I, in which numerous characters start yelling at each other and it’s not clear (at least to me) what all that shouting was supposed to achieve. It was almost like being in a crowded bar in which everyone must speak louder in order to be heard, which precipitates yet more volume.

Katherine Parkinson in Much Ado About Nothing at the NT. Credit Manuel Harlan.
Katherine Parkinson in Much Ado About Nothing at the NT. Credit Manuel Harlan.

It doesn’t help, either, that to a larger extent in the first half but also in the second, Katherine Parkinson’s Beatrice tends to rush through her lines, rather than allowing the comedy in Shakespeare’s text to truly come alive. The humour instead comes largely from facial expressions, and this is not a witty Beatrice, but rather a frustrated one who would rather be elsewhere. Here, Antonia (Wendy Kweh) and Leonato (an assured Rufus Wright) are managers of the Hotel Messina – one of many attempts this production makes to bring the play into a more modern era.

The set (Anna Fleischle) is quite the spectacle, and arguably overkill – the hotel frontage dominates the stage, such that some of the action between characters takes place at the sides or otherwise at the very front of the stage. Only the indoor scenes, within the hotel, allow for more stage space to be used. It is, however, extremely detailed – the audience even sees the hotel’s lifts and which floor it is on.

For the purposes of the narrative, the hotel has its own chapel as well as its own prison, with security staff headed by Dogberry (David Fynn) who apparently have powers of arrest. The more one thinks about it, the more the modernisation of the play starts to make less sense than a more ‘traditional’ rendering might have done. That said, proceedings are enjoyable, with some hearty laughter thanks to Benedick (a hugely likeable John Heffernan) in Act II Scene III and Dogberry in Acts III and IV. The use of a hotel house band – five musicians led by music director Dario Rossetti-Bonell – brought some jollity to the show, though they were somewhat underused, a transgression somewhat redeemed by a musical-esque finish from the whole company, complete with ensemble backing vocals and choreography.

Claudio (Eben Figueiredo) for some reason speaks in a Multicultural London English accent. I mention it largely because the accent came across to me as having varying degrees of strength from scene to scene: does the character moderate it in the presence of certain company – and if so, why? The blocking works reasonably well, with knowing expressions between characters to acknowledge they know if a certain somebody is within earshot of what they are talking about. The near-relentless deception gets a tad repetitive (is there really no other way of getting someone’s attention?), and even the priest, Friar Francis (Al Coppola, understudying for Mateo Oxley on press night) masterminds some fakery.

Shakespeare enthusiasts will be aware this is the third major Much Ado to be mounted this year – the others being at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, and at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. In the end, it’s a comedy that made the audience laugh out loud, and while this production isn’t perfect, it is nonetheless worth seeing. One more thing: as this review has been written in a heatwave, it’s (just about) worth pointing out that the National Theatre’s air conditioning works brilliantly.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Since the 1930s, the legendary family-run Hotel Messina has been visited by artists, celebrities and royalty.

When the current owner’s daughter falls for a dashing young soldier, the hallways are ringing with the sound of wedding bells.

However, not all the guests are in the mood for love, and a string of deceptions soon surround not only the young couple, but also the steadfastly single Beatrice and Benedick.

Hugh Oatcake / US Balthazar/George Seacole/Friar Francis – Al Coppola
Ursula / Dance Captain / US Beatrice – Celeste Dodwell
Claudio – Eben Figueiredo
Georgina Seacole / US Ursula/Margaret – Olivia Forrest
Dogberry – David Fynn
Lorenzo / US Dogberry/Verges – Ashley Gillard
Borachio / US Claudio – Brandon Grace
Verges / US Leonato – Nick Harris
Benedick – John Heffernan
Margaret / US Hero – Phoebe Horn
Don John – David Judge
Balthazar / US Borachio/Don John/Conrade/Hugh Oatcake – Kiren Kebaili-Dwyer
Hero – Ioanna Kimbook
Antonia – Wendy Kweh
Volpe Puzo, Lady Justice / US Antonia – Marcia Lecky
Conrade / US Don Pedro – Ewan Miller
Valentino / Friar Francis / US Benedick – Mateo Oxley
Beatrice – Katherine Parkinson
Leonato – Rufus Wright
Don Pedro – Ashley Zhangazha

Production Team
Director – Simon Godwin
Set Designer Anna Fleischle
Costume Designer Evie Gurney
Lighting Designer Lucy Carter
Movement Director Coral Messam
Composer Michael Bruce
Sound Designer Christopher Shutt
Fight Director Kate Waters
Associate Set Designer Cat Fuller
Music Associate Lindsey Miller
Company Voice Work Jeannette Nelson
Staff Director Hannah Joss
Dramaturg Emily Burns
Music Director / Guitars Dario Rossetti-Bonell
Kit Shane Forbes
Upright Bass Nicki Davenport
Woodwind Jessamy Holder
Trumpet Steve Pretty

Much Ado About Nothing
by William Shakespeare
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes with a 20 minute interval
Lyttelton Theatre

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