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‘Much Ado About Nothing’ review

  • Theatre, Shakespeare
  • Shakespeare's Globe, South Bank
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s Globe, 2022
Photo by Manuel Harlan

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

The Globe’s summer season kicks off with a very likeable revival for Shakespeare’s battle-of-the-sexes romcom

Much like your average British spring, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is a tale of dark clouds as well as sunshine. But Lucy Bailey’s admirably clear production looks on the bright side of Shakespeare’s play, using a post-war Italian setting to drench its romances in light and warmth.

In Joanna Parker’s playful design, the columns of Shakespeare’s Globe are wrapped with ivy, its boards are coated with cheery astroturf, and there's even an elaborate fountain that underscores the action with the gentle babble of water. It’s the perfect arena for the play’s famous ‘gulling’ scenes, where first Benedick (Ralph Davies) and then Beatrice (Lucy Phelps) is tricked into believing the other is in love with them. An eavesdropping Benedick scales the foliage-covered balcony as his feet barely escape the gardener’s snipping shears, while Beatrice ends up tangled in a badminton net, a sprinkler soaking her skirt. Davies and Phelps are both adept physical comedians, with chemistry that's as strong as their pratfalling skills, but the play’s chaos doesn't end with them. The masked ball becomes a woodland romp where the cast wear surreal wicker animal heads, and dinner on the lawn breaks down into a messy food fight.

After all this silliness, the second act’s sickly lurch into tragedy comes as a shock. Katy Stephens makes a compelling gender-swapped Leonata, delivering an agonisingly painful rejection of her daughter Hero (Nadi Kemp-Sayfi), who's publicly shamed for her supposed infidelity. These scenes are always hard for a twenty-first-century audience to stomach, but here they're made harder by the fact that the play's villain Don John (Olivier Huband) is more affable wheeler-dealer than evil schemer: the darkness doesn't quite land.

Still, who needs darkness when you've got an all-female accordion band? This production is beautifully underscored throughout with live music and whistles of birdsong, and it fills Shakespeare's Globe with joyful life, spilling off the stage as Beatrice plays hide and seek through the assembled crowd of groundlings. It's a memorable start to the summer season, full of music and mayhem in equal measure. 

Written by
Alice Saville


Shakespeare's Globe
New Globe Walk
Tube: Blackfriars/Mansion House/London Bridge
£5-£59. Runs 2hr 45min

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