In this latest screened production from the National Theatre, which was broadcast live to cinemas earlier in the Autumn, Director Simon Godwin takes Shakespeare’s comedy and updates it for the modern age, with a sparkling, colourful witty production led by Katherine Parkinson (The I.T Crowd/Doc Martin) and John Heffernan (Dracula). Godwin’s adaptation is set on the Italian Riviera in the 1930’s at the family-run hotel Messina and brings magic and mayhem to a tale created by Britain’s legendary playwright. The costumes (Evie Gurney) and set design (Anna Fleischle) are visually stunning and sophisticated and it’s refreshing to see a range of actors and genders playing Shakespearean roles (as would have been during his day) with a modern spin on accent and expression.
Parkinson and Heffernan shine bright as the characters Beatrice and Benedick who love to despise and outwit each other, but end up caught in a game of their friends making. Although Parkinson is best known for TV appearances in the I.T Crowd and Doc Martin, she has starred in many stage productions including The Seagull (2008) and Home, I’m Darling (2018) for which she was nominated an Olivia Award for Best Actress in a play. John Heffernan is charming and likeable as he portrays the awkward and witty Benedick alongside Parkinson, as false accusations mean they begin to see each other in a new light. Heffernan is known for working with the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre as well as starring in the BBC’s mini-series Dracula (2020). Heffernan and Parkinson’s comedic acting is put to great use in moments of farse later in the play. It’s easy to forget that tragedy is not Shakespeare’s only genre.
Ioanna Kimbook stuns as the innocent and beautiful Hero, daughter and only heir of the Hotel Messina’s owners Antonia and Leonato (played with great empathy and presence by Rufus Wright and Wendy Kweh). We see Kimbook’s portrayal of Hero as a shy, innocent maid first falling for Claudio as well as a broken-hearted woman when she is cast out by him for vial rumours that Don Pedro’s brother Don John spreads (David judge is brilliantly wicked in this role – the perfect Shakespearean villain). We also see her quiet strength as she fights for the man she loves. Kimbook shines in dramatic moments towards the end of the play, when weak and heart broken, she is assisted from the stage by her saddened cousin Beatrice and the Friar. Eben Figueiredo plays the complex Claudio with great effect, from his excited, light hearted nature on first meeting Hero, to the anger and bitterness he shows towards her on learning of her supposed infidelity. Then the heartache and sacrifice for justice when he believes he has killed the love of his life.
Ashley Zhangazha also stands out in his role as Prince Don Pedro, above Claudio in rank but loyal as a friend. Don Pedro assists Claudio in wooing Hero and is overjoyed at the news of their upcoming nuptials. Just as he is outraged when he learns of false news that Hero has betrayed his friend, and later, that his own brother has caused the tragedy that unfolds.
The live instruments played throughout the production take us back to the period of Shakespeare performances while also emphasising the 1930’s setting of the play. Godwin does well to balance the two. Lighting is warm and inviting, adding to the sparkling, party atmosphere and seaside setting. In a mourning scene, the change in lighting is particularly effective, paired with live music as Antonia and Leonato lead the march to Hero’s resting place.
Although it may not be Shakespeare’s most well known or liked comedies, Much Ado About Nothing lends itself perfectly to this style of production, the talented cast and production team and use of live band. The atmosphere was light for much of the first half of the production, with much misdirection, mishearing and confusion but as we expect with Shakespeare, dramatic events ensue to bring the characters much heartache and ratiocination. At the end of this production however, there is music and dance and matrimony. An enjoyable feast for the eyes and ears. Catch it at your local theatre now.
Reviewed at the Torch Theatre