Having previously enjoyed Love’s Labour’s Lost at the RSC, we returned again a couple of weeks ago to see the play it’s being paired with: Much Ado About Nothing (or Love’s Labour’s Won). This superb romantic comedy plays with the idea of the strangeness of love by having two main characters who are opposed to the idea, but who can’t help falling in love. The dialogue was once again sparkling, and there was great chemistry between Benedick and Beatrice, who were played by the same actors as Berowne and Rosaline in Love’s Labour’s Lost.
It was a fantastic performance again, and the 1918 setting worked really well. It opens with many of the characters in First World War military uniform, with the country house setting – modelled on Charlecote Park – used as a field hospital, as many country houses were. It’s set at Christmas in 1918, after the war is over. Normal costumes are resumed not long into the play. The story and dialogue are very easy to follow, and I’d say even those who don’t consider themselves Shakespeare fans would enjoy it.
As with Love’s Labour’s Lost, music and dancing were integral to Nigel Hess’s score, though not to quite such a comic effect as in that play. The comedy was certainly not lacking, though, and it had the audience in stitches. In particular, the scene when Benedick learns of Beatrice’s supposed love for him is absolutely hilarious; he’s hidden in a giant Christmas tree, though other people in the room know he’s there. Edward Bennett, playing Benedick, was superb.
Much Ado About Nothing has been paired with Love’s Labour’s Lost with the idea that Much Ado may be the lost play known as ‘Love’s Labour’s Won’. It used same cast as the previous play and the same Charlecote setting, with Lost before the war and Much Ado after it. For me, though, it didn’t really work as a sequel. While Love’s Labour’s Lost did end on a cliff-hanger, and the pre- and post-war settings of these plays almost suggest that it might be a sequel, the characters are not the same and their personalities are just too different. Berowne and Rosaline translated to Benedick and Beatrice, and as mentioned the same actors were used; but the jovial King of Navarre from Lost has become the villainous, discontented Don John. The war injury of the latter – he walks with a crutch – might perhaps go some way towards explaining a personality change, as the war certainly did cause such changes; but it felt just too much of a leap of the imagination. Some of the actors who’d been in supporting roles in Lost become main characters in Much Ado, which was also a bit confusing.
But, while ‘Love’s Labour’s Won‘ may not have convinced as a sequel, it’s certainly a splendid production in its own right, and one that you should definitely try to see before it ends in Stratford-upon-Avon on 4 March 2015.