Review: Much Ado About Nothing (National Theatre)

Zoë Wanamaker and Simon Russell Beale in Much Ado About Nothing

I was fortunate enough to get tickets to see Much Ado About Nothing at the National on Tuesday night. The show closes on Saturday, so you only have 5 more chances to see the show, although I suspect that at this very late stage it’s practically impossible to get hold of a ticket.

I’m no Shakespeare expert (if you’ve read my blog, you’ll see that I spend more of my time watching musical theatre than I do classical theatre), but I was thoroughly impressed by both the play and the production.

A few thoughts, in no particular order, about the production…

Simon Russell Beale is a genius, and his performance as Benedick was spell-binding. His ability to extract humour from at-times apparently innocuous lines is superb, and he was able to have the audience convulsing in laughter using facial expressions alone (particularly when mostly submerged under water). Zoë Wanamaker, playing opposite him as Beatrice, was similarly impressive, combining youthful innocence with a healthy level of cynicism.

Vicki Mortimer’s set design made great use of the Olivier’s on-stage revolve, enhancing the sense of fluidity between the scenes and locations, without any distraction from set moving on and offstage. I found the use of wooden beams rather than solid walls particularly effective, allowing the audience to see the ‘off-stage’ action which was still partially in view between them.

Mark Addy and Trevor Peacock were unsurprisingly hilarious as Dogberry and Verges, although with material like this, they would struggle not to be funny. Any fans of ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ will recognise Peacock’s performance on stage.

I also thought Oliver Ford Davies’ performance as Leonato was particularly note-worthy, although it seems somewhat churlish to pick individuals when all of the leading actors – Susanna Fielding, Daniel Hawksford, Julian Wadham, and Andrew Woodall – gave excellent performances.

All in all, I feel hugely lucky to have procured a ticket for the show, and found it an absolute treat. 

Obviously, since the play is closing this weekend, I’m pretty late to the table, and many reviews have already been written. I will therefore finish with some quotes from a couple of the best reviewers in the business – Michael Billington and Benedict Nightingale – both of whom wrote extremely positive reviews

Michael Billington (The Guardian) click here for full review
“This is a production that gets most things right.”
“We are watching a Much Ado that is not only funny but that also reaches into human experience”

Benedict Nightingale (The Times) click here for full review
“It’s those beautifully judged switches between humour and gravity that make their pairing exceptional”
“Hytner’s production has a warm and, defying the Olivier’s size, domestic feel.”
“The result is what Much Ado should be: Othello with laughs and a happy ending.” 

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