Ranging from high drama to low farce (which is very, very funny indeed – with echoes of the Keystone Cops and Harold Lloyd (sans specs)), Love’s Labour’s Won – really Much Ado About Nothing – follows on beautifully (and remarkably well) from its companion Love’s Labour’s Lost – using a slightly shuffled cast (from the same company of players) to complement it; as well as sharing a setting, in my cherished Charlecote Park.
Keeping Edward Bennett (Berowne/Benedick) and Michelle Terry (Rosaline/Beatrice) as the central pair also helps link the two plays – a pair of sparkling actors, in “a pair of sparkling comedies [that] belong together”, as Greg Doran states in the programme – although this one has a much more optimistic (and complete) ending: which, carrying on after the first ‘curtain call’, just keeps coming back for more song and dance! (Extra time, perhaps…?)
This play wins on momentum, perhaps – it “hath indeed better bett’red expectation than you must expect of me to tell you how…” – but takes joint honours in the early-twentieth-century period “excellent music” (by Nigel Hess; directed by John Woolf – including a very moving post-interval company rendition of Holst’s setting of Christina Rossetti’s In the bleak mid-winter…) – and costume (supervised by Samantha Pickering). It also features a dancing star of a Christmas tree topper that I hope the RSC will be selling in their shop as a seasonal, Shakespearean ornament available to all…!
The revelation of the (preview) night, for me, was the multi-talented Harry Waller’s self-deprecating “ill singer” Balthasar, accompanying himself on the piano for a wonderful rendition of Sigh no more, ladies. Only a footman in Love’s Labour’s Lost, his warm voice perfectly fits the post-Edwardian era timbre of the play: making him more of a central figure than the text would perhaps suggest (only 33 lines – of which 23 are lyrics…) – “faith, thou sing’st well enough for a shift”.
If I had one criticism, it would be the casting of Sam Alexander (as the (legal and ethical) bastard, and personification of evil, Don John) and John Hodgkinson (as Prince Don Pedro) as half-brothers – when there is an age difference, in real life, of around twenty years. Although they both inhabit their rôles consummately, with depth and meaning, their somewhat lighter parts in Love’s Labour’s Lost – as the most conscientious monarch, and the affected Spanish braggart (and wonderfully cod-accented) Don Armado, respectively – mean that, initially, it can also be difficult to accept the serious nature of their ‘new’ characters: nonetheless, this does give both of them the vantage of demonstrating their great range.
As with the first, I shall be back to see this second play in a month or so (once more, with captions) – but tickets (I am told) are starting to get hard to come by: so if you want to join in the revelry – and this production of Much Ado would make a perfect pantomime-substitute – book now!
By the way – as a walking stick user, with a mum who uses a crutch – I think I need to start a campaign to teach actors that supports always go on the good side – not next to your gammy leg. Don John may have limped consistently and convincingly, throughout: but he has obviously been watching too much House…!