Much Ado About Nothing

Written by William Shakespeare

Thursday 23rd April to Saturday 25th April and Tuesday 28th April to Saturday 2nd May 1998

Directed by David Penrose

Set in the warm sun of a Mediterranean late summer this glorious play gives us Shakespeare's most entertaining romantic comedy team - Beatrice and Benedick.
Everyone knows they are mad for each other except them. So how do their friends stop them wisecracking at each other's expense and get them together? By heavy handed interfering, that's how; made worse by the fact that their friends are soldiers - in between wars - and bored. These are men behaving badly: arrogant, charismatic and dangerous.
If Beatrice and Benedick will ever drop the jokes and commit themselves to a relationship, it will not be before the summer is blighted by near tragedy. Not everyone caught up in the elaborate game is able to defend themselves. When everything goes wrong, a young girl's life may be lost.

'Much Ado About Nothing' is funny, then moving, then funny again; Shakespeare is at his warmest and most forgiving when dramatising what fine messes we can make of the simplest things.

AuthorWilliam Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)

Shakespeare is considered by many to be the greatest playwright of all time and is possibly the most famous playwright in the English-speaking world. Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, he was also probably educated there however, very little is known of his early life. The next documented event in his life is his marriage in 1582 to Anne Hathaway. The couple had a daughter the following year and twins in 1585. Another gap followed (referred to by some scholars as 'the lost years') with Shakespeare only reappearing in London in 1592, when he was already working in the theatre.

Shakespeare's acting career was spent with the Lord Chamberlain's Company, which was renamed the King's Company in 1603 when James succeeded to the throne. The group acquired interests in two theatres in the Southwark area of London, near the banks of the Thames - the Globe and the Blackfriars.

Shakespeare's poetry was published before his plays, with two poems appearing in 1593 and 1594, dedicated to his patron Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Most of Shakespeare's sonnets (of which there were 154 in all) were probably written at this time as well. Records of Shakespeare's plays begin to appear in 1594 - the first of which was Richard III - and he produced roughly two a year until around 1611 making 37 in all. Shakespeare spent the last five years of his life in Stratford, and he was buried in the Holy Trinity Church there. The first collected edition of his works wasn't published until 1623, some 7 years after his death.

PlayMuch Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing is believed to have been written around 1598 and is one of Shakespeare's most accessible comedies. It is set in Messina, a port on the island of Sicily, which is next to the toe of Italy. Sicily was ruled by Spain at the time the play was set. The action of the play takes place mainly at the home and on the grounds of Leonato's Estate.

The Prince of Arragon's army returns to Messina from the wars. His officers are welcomed by Leonato, Governor of the city. Claudio, with the help of Don Pedro, wins the hand of Leonato's only child, Hero. Her cousin Beatrice, a confirmed spinster, and Benedick, a confirmed bachelor, are tricked into recognising their love for each other. Claudio is deceived by a ploy (initiated by Don John - Don Pedro's illegitimate brother) and on his wedding day jilts Hero. She faints and is believed dead, but recovers to be proved innocent by a chance discovery made by the local Watch. Claudio and Hero, and Beatrice and Benedick, are happily united.

The Bench Production

Much Ado About Nothing poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Leonato (Governor of Messina)Peter Corrigan
Antonio (Leonato's brother)John Batstone
Hero (Leonato's daughter)Naomi Smyth
Beatrice (Leonato's niece)Sally Hartley
Ursula (Hero's companion)Debbie Money
Margaret (Hero's companion)Sam Emery
Don Pedro (Prince of Arragon)Alan Welton
Count ClaudioTom Kenyon
BenedickDavid Penrose
BalthasarGary McNie
Don Pedro's MessengerSimon Walton
Other SoldiersPhilip Feed
Nathan Chapman
Don John (Don Pedro's half brother)Mark Wakeman
BorachioSteven Foden
ConradeSimon Norton
Constable DogberryPete Woodward
Verges (Dogberry's deputy)Damon Wakelin
First WatchmanMike Hickman
Second WatchmanPhilip Freed
Watchman SeacoalNathan Chapman
The Sexton (Francis Seacoal)Simon Walton
Friar FrancisMike Hickman
A MusicianJohn Speller


Director David Penrose
Choreographer Annie Baillie
Dance Music by Nigel Hess
Songs arranged by Nick Reynolds
Stage Manager Damon Wakelin
Assistant Stage Managers Mike Hickman
Phil Chapman
Lighting Design Jacquie Penrose
Lighting Operation Ingrid Corrigan
Sound Tim Taylor
Costumes Simon Walton
Sue Walton
Set Design David Penrose
Front of House Ali Bullivant
Publicity Design Pete Woodward
Photographs John Plimmer
Programme Editor Andrew Caple

Director's Notes

When Shakespeare wrote this play he was quite obviously obsessed with the soldiers and the smoke of battle. He had just finished the two Henry the Fourth plays and was probably already working on Henry V. The time is somewhere between 1598 and 1600. It is easy to see 'Much Ado' as a piece of light relief between wars, and it is, certainly, one of his warmest, most forgiving examinations of human folly, flanked by his heavier preoccupations with nationalism and the nature of kingship in the great History cycle. But in many ways, he sticks to his theme.

Whether Prince or commoner, what are a soldier's responsibilities to society when there are no battles to fight? How do the ritual codes of military honour equip a man for survival amongst civilians? How do military men, trained to meet the territorial imperative, cope with women whose own training has been more concerned with the social imperatives of pairing-off and procreation?

'Much Ado About Nothing is about soldiers with nothing to do and what women have to put up with when soldiers get bored. Elizabethan England was just as familiar as our own day with the collision of the sexes being seen in military terms - 'the battle of the sexes' was already commonplace. In Shakespeare's day, the elaborately dressed soldier-courtier, well-practised in dance, song and poetry, must have sparred in the queen's court with equally skilled woman of wit and intelligence.

This production moves the quarrel forward to a world perhaps made more familiar to us through current popular culture than the late sixteenth century - to the mid-Victorian world. Army officers of the period were often dashing, courtly and better dressed than anyone else in mixed company, but capable of urbane, ritualised cruelty when solely in their own company. Women of wit and intelligence at the time were forced, like Beatrice, to watch and comment from the sidelines, close enough not to be deceived by the immaturity of much male behaviour but powerless to do much other than disconcert their male peers with barbed criticism.

I hope you enjoy the production.

David Penrose


The NewsMike Allen

Clean, direct and glowing bit of a do

For almost two acts Bench Theatre's Much Ado seems to slumber in the Sicilian sunlight. Of Shakespeare's sparring wouldn't-be lovers only Sally Hartley as Beatrice delivers her barbs with spirit. David Penrose is too world-weary for words - as if weighed down by his cares as director.

Then Penrose the actor puts some pep into a soliloquy - and Penrose the director tips buckets of the stuff into the pas-de-quatre among the flower arrangements as three male friends dupe Benedick into believing Beatrice loves him. From then on, he develops a mischievous charm to counterpoint her tactile warmth, and subtle directorial touches begin to enrich some well-measured acting. The linguistically-challenged Dogberry is all the funnier for Peter Woodward's degree of under-statement.

The youthfulness of talented pair Tom Kenyon (Claudio) and Naomi Smyth (Hero) is effectively set against the maturity of the two Bs. But Claudio needs to be a bit more brutal in his initial rejection of his bride to give the play its essential brinkmanship - of comedy that could so easily be tragedy. Some in the cast must learn not to shuffle or gabble, but in the end, this is a clean and glowing Much Ado. Until May 2.

The News, 24th April 1998

Production Photographs