Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakespeare
National Theatre at Home
National Theatre (Lyttelton Theatre)

Go to stream...

John Heffernan and Katherine Parkinson Credit: Manuel Harlan
The Cast of Much Ado About Nothing Credit: Manuel Harlan
Wendy Kweh, Katherine Parkinson and Ioanna Kimbook Credit: Manuel Harlan
The Cast of Much Ado About Nothing Credit: Manuel Harlan

It is a brave director who would take on what many regard as Shakespeare’s finest and funniest comedy at the National Theatre, since so many viewers will still fondly remember what might have been the best ever version of the play at the venue in 2007, directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring Simon Russell Beale opposite Zoe Wanamaker.

Simon Godwin takes a very different, modish approach to the play, regarding it as an instrument for directorial interpretation rather than a glorious work that deserves to be seen as the author intended.

Set and costume designers Anna Fleischle and Evie Gurney, using a pastel palette that is muted but varied, seemingly place this interpretation in the jazz age with Michael Bruce’s compositions adding to the impression. However, while the look might be from the first half of the last century, the behaviour and mannerisms are very much those of today, which creates something of a clash.

Rather than the traditional setting, the drama is played out at the Hotel Messina, managed by Leonato and (Godwin correcting Shakespeare’s error in neglecting to provide a companion) his wife Antonia.

A group of soldiers returning from war offer wit, melancholy and multiple opportunities for love, which soon moves to the fore. However, while watching Ioanna Kimbook’s young Hero being wooed by Eben Figueiredo (using an accent that is frequently impenetrable as Claudio) presents a relatively common journey featuring stormy interludes en route to an inevitable conclusion, the true fun lies elsewhere.

This surrounds the hate-love relationship between Katherine Parkinson taking the role of Beatrice and John Heffernan playing Benedick. Both behave oddly enough to make one wonder whether the main trait that they share is not so much a manic-depressive outlook but a life spent constantly drifting unhappily between drunkenness and hangovers.

Along with the rest of the cast, the pair are asked to act like stagey, artificial performers in a farcical sitcom, making much use of stage business never imagined by Shakespeare, which tends to dilute the comedy. Even two of the funniest scenes in all of the Bard’s work, as the duo are gulled into falling in love, tend to land rather flatter than they should thanks to unnecessary slapstick.

In similar vein, although Dogberry is supposed to be a bit of a joke, David Fynn has been asked to portray him as Basil Fawlty on speed, which can be tiring to watch.

While much of the gender / accent / colour blindness is perfectly reasonable, the insertion of new characters, lines and scenes that have rarely, if ever, been seen before detract from rather than enhancing the plot.

Overall, this Much Ado About Nothing recorded on stage in 2022 pays too little homage to Shakespeare and will almost certainly disappoint those with happy memories of Nicholas Hytner’s pitch-perfect version 15 years earlier.

National Theatre at Home is available on subscription, broadcasts in HD, costs only £9.99 for a month or £99.99 for a year.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

*Some links, including Amazon,,, ATG Tickets, LOVEtheatre, BTG Tickets, Ticketmaster, LW Theatres and QuayTickets, are affiliate links for which BTG may earn a small fee at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Are you sure?