Friday, November 07, 2014

'Much Ado About Nothing or Love's Labour's Won' by William Shakespeare

7 November 2014

A few weeks ago we were at Charlecote, the Elizabethan manor house near Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, which is a now a National Trust property. On Thursday we were in Stratford to see Charlecote recreated on the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for Christopher Luscombe's Royal Shakespeare Company production of 'Much Ado About Nothing'. Simon Higlett's amazing set makes impressive use of the unique capacity of the RST to replicate the exterior of Charlecote, a drawing room, billiards room and chapel. The play is billed as 'Much Ado About Nothing or Love's Labour's Won', suggesting that Shakespeare's famous 'lost' play, 'Love's Labour's Won', might have just been an alternative title for the work we now know as 'Much Ado About Nothing'. Luscombe has used this idea to see 'Much Ado About Nothing' as a sequel to 'Love's Labour's Lost', producing the two plays as companion pieces using the same cast and set. He has placed 'Love's Labour's Lost' in a country estate on the eve of the First World War. That play ends with the young men departing to endure a period of hardship, separated from their lovers. 'Much Ado About Nothing', here set on the same estate in December 1918, opens with the soldiers returning from the Great War. It's an effective setting for a stylish production with lovely period costumes and the troubadour Balthasar becoming an Ivor Novello figure. 'Much Ado About Nothing' treads a fine line between comedy and tragedy but this production focussed on the comic. Beatrice imploring Benedick to “Kill Claudio” is often the moment that chilling reality pierces the jolly mood of the play but on Thursday this line got a laugh. Having decided to play it for laughs, the production was genuinely very funny. Michelle Terry as Beatrice and Edward Bennett as Benedick were excellent and their verbal jousting was perfectly timed. David Horovitch as Leonato and Thomas Wheatley as his brother Antonio looked uncannily like Captain Mainwaring and Sergeant Wilson from 'Dad's Army'. The Dogberry scenes in 'Much Ado About Nothing' are notoriously difficult to pull off. Clearly written as comic interludes they rarely seem funny to modern audiences. Dogberry's 'malapropisms' seem too well disguised for us to work out what word it was he really meant to say. But this production managed to make these scenes work in a way I haven't seen before. The constable and his deputy, in period police uniforms, suggested the surreal world of Flann O'Brien's 'The Third Policeman' (reviewed here in April 2007) – complete with bicycle. And the use of some great physical comedy effectively distracted from any verbal gags missing their targets. Most of all, the subtle suggestion of First World War shellshock hand tremors made Nick Haverson's Dogberry a surprisingly sympathetic character.

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