Royal Shakespeare Company (venue)
15 December 2016 (released)
18 December 2016
By adding 'Or Love's Labour's Won' to the usual title 'Much Ado about Nothing', the Royal Shakespeare Company and Chichester Festival Theatre are testing a theory that there is a clear link between 'Much Ado About Nothing' and 'Love Labour's Lost'. It could be that Much Ado is in fact the Bard's lost work known as 'Love's Labour's Won'. It is certainly true that many themes and characters are repeated and the decision to set them in a country estate before and after the war binds them even closer together. The beauty of Much Ado, generally regarded as the far greater play of the two, is that the entirely convincing characterisation of Beatrice and Benedick with their fiesty romantic battles. It is also one of the easier plays to follow if you're not a student of the rhythmic prose that can often baffle as much as entrance.
For this production the play is transported to the early 20th Century at the end of the Great War. Therefore the uniforms are very much Blackadder, not Wolf Hall, but the story of course remains untouched. The central sparring pair of Beatrice and Benedick are played by the outstanding Lisa Dillon and Edward Bennett and their early exchanges light up the stage as quips and barbs are fired at a ferocious pace. But Dillon plays Beatrice with a warmth that can often be lacking in her portrayal; here is a woman who is not just hard and judging but also vulnerable and lonely. Bennett has a broad and friendly face, open to great expression and he uses this well, bounding about the stage with great verve and energy. He commands the stage from the opening scenes and his comedy timing is outstanding.
They are more than ably supported by the rest of the cast, with Harry Waller (as Balthasar) impressing with a sprinkling of musical magic. The play's weakest part is the opening of the second half, where the village policeman is introduced. Nick Haverson plays the idiot cop with such relish that it veers close to over indulgence. There is only so much slapstick you can take. To be fair, playing someone so daft and falling over things and yourself look easy, but it's incredibly hard to do well. Far sharper are the comedy moments given to Benedick, including a wonderful scene that makes hilarious use of the set's Christmas tree.
There are also darker and tender moments of course, with tearful sighs from the audience as Hero's heart is initially broken. But this is a feel good play, at a time of year when we want to feel good and thankfully it doesn't take long for the lies and misunderstandings to be unraveled and the singing and dancing to begin again. The same cast for Much Ado About Nothing are performing Love Labour's Lost in the afternoon, so if you want a full day out, you can judge for yourself whether the plays have threads of similarity.
Read our review of Love’s Labour’s Lost here