This all singing, all dancing version of the play, which I saw in preview, so things might improve before the press night a week later , has some easy laughs, a hideous set and quite simply does not get to grips with Shakespeare’s play. The reluctant lovers, Beatrice (Katherine Parkinson) and Benedick (John Heffernan) are bland, and while Dogberry (David Flynn) and friends manage to be quite funny, which does not always happen, everyone else makes no impression at all. The director Simon Godwin has chosen to set this story of love and lies act in the Messina Hotel somewhere or other in Italy sometime unspecified. It is a kind of blank verse The Boyfriend with a jazz quintet to provide music and songs from time to time. Hero (Ionanne Kimbook) is the proprietor’s daughter, Beatrix is his niece and Don John (David Judge), Claudio (Eban Figueiredo) and Benedict are soldiers who have come with Don Pedro (Ashley Zhangaaha), their general, to stay as a little relief after some military action. What follows is a game of love, lies and jealousy as Hero and Don Pedro and Claudio plot to ensure that confirmed bachelor Benedick proposes to Beatrice, and Claudio falls in turn for Hero. Don John, however, who is just plain nasty and feels ousted by Claudio from his rightful place as his brother’s best friend, decides to ensure that does not happen by convincing everyone that Hero is not a virgin but has been entertaining lovers.
But the production makes all that happens impossible to believe and that Kill Claudio line by Beatrice seeking revenge on him for what he has done spurning her cousin, which should chill – this game of love and lies is actually serious, Don John’s jealousy genuinely dangerous – passes by almost unnoticed.
The five strong quintet play jazz numbers, lots of flunkeys to run around doing nothing in particular in the hotel, and a hideous set consisting of a circular building on a revolve which turns round to be different rooms in the hotel and is flanked by two wings which are either part of the building or outhouses so that one can see the beach beyond does not help. It looks like the tourist hotel from hell, rather than somewhere elegant to which posh folk would come. The singing and dancing is pleasing enough, some of the slapstick works quite well – Benedict getting entangled in a hammock to hide for one of the overhearing scenes to convince him Beatrice loves him proves rather funny as is the counterpart one when Beatrice listens to the same about him.
As an introduction to the play it is a disaster which is not to deny that there were those in the audience who got to their feet at the end but they were being short changed. Much Ado is a great comedy about love and deceit and just how important virginity in a bride once was, but this is a pointless romp of a production. Mind you it could have improved by opening night and some critics did approve – but those whose opinions I respect did not like it one little bit.
Antonia, manager of the hotel: Wendy Kweh.
Leonato, manager of the hotel: Rufus Wright,
Hero, their daughter: Ionna Kimbook.
Beatrice, their niece: Katherine Parkinson.
Don Pedro: Ashley Zhangazha.
Benedick: John Heffernan.
Claudio: Eben Figueiredo.
Don John: David Judge.
Conrade: Ewan Miller.
Ursul: celeste Dodwell.
Boracchio: Brandon Grace,
Margaret: phjoebe Horn.
Balthazar: Kiren Kebali-Dwyer.
Lorenzo: Ashley Gillard.
Dogberry: David Flynn.
Verges: Nick Harris,
Georgina Seacole: Olivia Forrest.
Hugh Oatcake: Al Coppola.
Valentino/Friuar Francis: Mateo Oxley.
Volpe Puzo, Lady Justice: Marcia Lecky.
Director: Simon Godwin.
Set Designer: Anna Fleischle.
Lighting Designer: Lucy Carter.
Costume Designer: Evie Gurney.
Movement Director: Coral Messam.
Composer: Michael Bruce.
Sound Designer: Christopher Shutt.
Fight Director: Kate Waters.