Much Ado about Love’s Labour’s Lost and Won (RST, September 2014 to March 12th 2015)

I thought that the RSC’s idea to pair  Love’s Labour’s Lost with Much Ado About Nothing was an interesting one, and provided an opportunity to explore the two plays together.  The rationale behind this decision was that Much Ado About Nothing must be the lost play, Love’s Labour’s Won, and so the RSC called it’s production of Much Ado About Nothing as Love’s Labour’s Won.  Indeed, there was much that worked well in the juxtaposition between the two plays. The concept allowed the director, Christopher Luscombe  to set the two plays at either side of the first world war.  Love’s Labour’s Lost ended with the four men, now soldiers, going to war.  In Much Ado About Nothing the play commenced with the soldiers returning from the first world war. The pre-war and post-war periods worked well in giving the two households a claustrophobic feel where there wasn’t much they could do but play at being scholars, and lovers.  What also worked very well was that Love’s Labour’s Lost  was set in the Sunmer.  There was a nice touch was the poppies in the background in one scene.  Much Ado About Nothing became a winter play and presented the company with an opportune moment to include a Christmas element in Much Ado About Nothing as it played over the Christmas period. Indeed, Benedick’s gulling scene made much use of the Christmas tree.

The set was stunning.  Modelled on Charlecote close to Stratford-Upon-Avon, the productions took place in different rooms, and the audience was presented with interiors and exteriors as well as the chapel, but the star piece was  the scene on the roof in Love’s Labour’s Lost.  A determination to set up different rooms in the house meant that the sight lines in some places were poor. From the ends of the front rows, chairs often obscured views for whole scenes, and these did not improve during the run. Even though this was a thrust stage, I felt that the whole thing was designed for a proscenium arch stage. Moments from both gulling scenes in Much Ado About Nothing were completely lost for audience members sat in seats that were upstage.

The setting of the plays in a specific location and time period also presented an opportunity to explore Englishness, though the revealing of the French flag in Love’s Labour’s Lost felt strange and out of keeping with the whole aesthetic.

In Love’s Labour’s Lost, the women were fabulous, and a lot of the comedy came from their coordinated gestures. Michelle Terry  managed to capture Rosaline’s dry humour, and was able to do this again with her portrayal of Beatrice. The women’s reaction to the men attempting to impress as Russian dancers was very enjoyable.  In Much Ado About Nothing, the pool table trick was impressive, and the masked ball a lot of fun.  There are nice touches such as Costard (Nick Haversham) taking his boots off to enter the house, and noticing the background music.  The duet between Moth and Don Armado (John Hodgkinson) was very funny.  In Much Ado About Nothing, the moving of the furniture in the interrogation of the Watch scene is hilarious and often resulted in applause,  and Dogberry (Nick Haversam) plays up the slapstick.  However, there was a very skillful twist in the scene and the laughter turns to sadness when the audience realises that we are actually laughing at  who is suffering from shell shock.

I felt that more through lines might have been explored. For example, I thought that it might have Sam Alexander playing Don Pedro as well as the king, rather than Don John, which would have given an opportunity to focus on leadership and youth in the two plays. I also thought that and Moth (Peter McGovern) might have returned as the boy and/or Balthezar in Much Ado About Nothing.

Some things changed through the run, such as a comic moment at the start of Love’s Labour’s Lost where the King spins the Globe so that Navarre is visible to the men seemed to disappear after the Live Screening.

It might be possible to say the star of the two productions was the teddy bear in Love’s Labour’s Lost, but Ed Bennett’s stand out performances as Berowne and Benedick were sensational. He mastered the comic timing and draw the audience into the production with him. and perfected the ability to give the impression that he was just about to corpse. His gulling scene in Much Ado About Nothing was the best of slapstick and comedy taking elements from Morecombe and Wise and Some Mother’s Do Have Them. However, Edward Bennett stole the show in the scene where Beatrice is sent to call him in to dinner. Disheveled, Sprawled across the chaise Lounge, covered in powder and Christmas decorations trying to look sexy eating a chocolate. His determination to woo. but appearing to look so uncomfortable, was masterful.

Much Ado About Nothing is becoming one of my favourite plays. It’s funny and it’s dark. Here it was cut and some of the emotional complexity was lost.  That was a shame because I think the production was able to explore those elements in the depth they deserved and could have done that alongside the song and humour that the production gained.

It looked like the RSC struggled to market Love’s Labour’s Won and were constantly having to add the Much Ado tag line for clarity.  The line in Much Ado About Nothing, ‘few of any sort and none of name’ have died, and that line had to be cut because it was just so inappropriate in reference to the first world war.  It was clear that Berowne and Benedick are two very different characters.  What the experiment did for me was show  that Much Ado About Nothing is not the sequel to Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Reviews, previews

Storify Link

References

Charlecote Park

Cast

Love’s Labour’s LostSam Alexander – King of Navarre
Peter Basham – Gamekeeper
William Belchambers – Longaville
Edward Bennett – Berowne
Nick Haverson – Costard
John Hodgkinson – Don Armado
David Horovitch – Holofernes
Tunji Kasim – Dumaine
Sophie Khan Levy – Housemaid
Oliver Lynes – Footman
Emma Manton – Jaquenetta
Chris McCalphy – Dull
Frances McNamee – Maria
Peter McGovern – Moth
Chris Nayak – Footman
Jamie Newall – Boyet
Roderick Smith – Marcadé
Flora Spencer-Longhurst – Katharine
Michelle Terry – Rosaline
Harry Waller – Gamekeeper
Thomas Wheatley – Sir Nathaniel
Leah Whitaker – Princess of France
Love’s Labour’s WonSam Alexander – Don John
Peter Basham – Butler
William Belchambers – Conrade
Edward Bennett – Benedick
Nick Haverson – Dogberry
John Hodgkinson – Don Pedro
David Horovitch – Leonato
Tunji Kasim – Claudio
Sophie Khan Levy – Housemaid
Oliver Lynes – Soldier
Emma Manton – Margaret
Chris McCalphy – Sexton
Frances McNamee – Ursula
Peter McGovern – George Seacoal
Chris Nayak – Borachio
Jamie Newall – Friar Francis
Roderick Smith – Verges
Flora Spencer-Longhurst – Hero
Michelle Terry – Beatrice
Harry Waller – Balthasar
Thomas Wheatley – Antonio
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