The Royal Shakespeare Company and Chichester Festival Theatre bring a double helping of Shakespeare with 'Love's Labour's Lost' and 'Much Ado About Nothing or Love's Labour's Won' coming to the West End for a limited run. Setting the two plays either side of the first World War, they are testing a theory that there is a clear link between the two comedies - a concept which dazzles. The witty sparing couples darting around opulent country estates, perfectly illuminated by the dark war-time setting.

Director, Christopher Luscome, designer, Simon Higlet and the same company of 23 actors bring both plays to life and there is not a weak link among them. Love's Labour's Lost is not the best known of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies but it is a joyous ensemble piece with Noel Cowardesque music by Nigel Hess. There is a distinctly Downtown Abbey feel to the whole production with irresistible costumes and a set that seems right at home in the Grade 1 listed theatre, designed by John Nash.

Love’s Labour’s Lost conjures up the carefree elegance of a pre-war Edwardian summer as four couples fall in love but cannot be together. In the opening scene the King and his friend’s make a vow to three years hard study, meagre rations and sleep deprivation. And worst of all they swear off women. This is a cause of hilarious agony when the Princess of France arrives with her ladies in waiting. When the men finally profess their love, the ladies insist that they wait twelve months to prove their fidelity. As the final pageant slips into a distinctly ominous march, it is implied that something far darker will separate them now. A brilliant concept that gives weight and relevance to the romantic comedy.

War-time setting aside, it is first and foremost a comedy dense with verbal wit and light-hearted trickery. There is certainly no guarantee that Shakespeare’s comedies will make you laugh and it’s the sharp and wonderfully silly characterisation of every character on stage that energies the quick fire dialogue and breaths new life into the text. There is a magically funny scene set on the rooftops of the estate, where the four young men (played by Sam Alexander,William Belchambers, Edward Bennett and Tunji Kasim) proclaim their love to the stars with boarding school fervour as smoke drifts from the chimneys beside them and their pals hide behind various parapets.

It’s not a difficult play to follow if Shakespeare isn’t your thing and it really is a wonderful festive treat.

Read our review of Much Ado About Nothing here.
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