Oh, I wasn't looking forward to this: neither to watching nor writing about Mark Rylance's poor attempt at Shakespeare. It's been widely critically lambasted, with much being made of James Earl Jones' inability to recall his lines, but part of me was still hoping that, underneath it all, there was something positive to say. There isn't.

It seems incredible that in a cast full to the brim with excellent creatives, not one element of this production stands up to scrutiny. Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave are a great pair of widely-respected performers (and tick the "celebrity" box currently needed to run a commercial show in London with any success), but they flounder here: both are too indulgent; Redgrave too subtle and quiet and Jones mumbling and settling into a Sphinx-like freeze when he isn't speaking – although, at least, he seems to have had a couple more days for the lines to settle.

It isn't enough: they simply aren't fiery, zesty or passionate enough to play Beatrice and Benedick, and part of this may be down to their combined age of 158 – the Ginger joked that if they didn't hurry up and "find themselves wed" soon, they probably wouldn't need to consider it! The concept of aging lovers isn't a poor one, but these once-greats just can't do it justice.

If only that was the end of this production's problems: Rylance has also managed to direct one of the dullest stagings of Much Ado About Nothing imaginable. The post-WWII setting is not a bad idea, nor is casting Don Pedro's warriors as returning Tuskegee Airmen, but that's where it all starts to fall down: why are the first African-American airforce division stopping off in what I can only assume is rural England on the way home? It feels less like a concept and more like a rather crass contrivance which allows for a more multicultural cast.

Concept aside, what Rylance does with it is even stranger. The staging is a simple wooden arch, wooden floor and walls, all in the same tinted wood panelling that merges into itself to create... well, nothing really. It's basically a blank stage. It could be engaging in its sheer emptiness, but then the production does little to fill it – set pieces and characters are constantly passing through it, but nothing epic and large occurs that would justify such an underuse of the wide open space. It's not even walled off to hide the cavernous depths.

Within this, the characters meander from one side of the stage to the other, creating a constant current of background action that suits the play rather well. But there's no noise – it's all done quietly (possibly to help the quiet leads), which means that the whole thing feels muted and distanced. The polished surfaces echo unevenly, and there seems to be no sound design at all beyond the rather lovely jazz cover of "Sigh No More", which isn't allowed its own space since Tim Barlow is dancing awkwardly (and, horribly, mocking the black singers) behind it. The lighting design is diffuse, with broad swathes of the audience lit – which meant you could see them squirming and reading their programmes.

Even the supporting cast struggle through this morass: it's a bad day when the best actor in a production of Much Ado is playing Borachio. Kingsley Ben-Adir (God's Property) may be the only saving grace of the show, with Beth Cooke (DruidMurphy) underplaying Hero into a sullen, glum wallflower, Lloyd Everett (Chariots of Fire) making Claudio more stolid than earnest, Melody Grove (Prudencia Hart) being criminally underused as Margaret and Danny Lee Wynter (St John's Night) mugging Don John into a cartoon Bond villain.

It's long been rumored that Mark Rylance, one of the most talented actors, may not be a particularly brilliant director, and the buck certainly seems to stop with him here. The super-star actors simply don't have the vigour to pull off parts of this magnitude anymore, and he's let a large cast of excellent supporting actors languish in his attempts to make his stars the leads of a play where, to be honest, they have little to do with the main plot.

Someone told the Ginger that this show wasn't even worth seeing because of how bad it was, and I didn't believe them – shows are normally decried as "bad" because someone has made an interesting production decision that splits opinions. However, in this case, it really is just not worth watching – a big disappointment.

Much Ado About Nothing, at Old Vic TheatreChris Hislop reviews Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic.1