The Royal Shakespeare Company have managed to combine the two plays with ease and charm to provide a wonderfully entertaining time at the theatre.
First up in this double bill of delightfully sparkling comedies by William Shakespeare was a hilarious if at times occasionally over-the-top production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, which throws so much comedy in it that the story does lose some of its meaning.
Set in 1914, just before the outbreak of war, the King of Navarre and his friends decide to take an oath to avoid the company of women for three years. But no sooner have they pledged their oaths, the arrival of the Princess of France and her companions arrive throwing their plans all awry.
The grandeur and the warmth of Simon Higlett’s set design (based on Charlecote Park near Stratford-Upon-Avon) is the perfect place for all the chaos and confusion to happen and is a star of the production in its own right.
It is particularly used effectively to heighten the comedy – for example in one standout scene as the Lords and King read their love letters to the ladies out loud on the roof without each other realising is brilliantly carried out.
But it is really the performances that standout. From John Hodgkinson’s wonderfully flamboyant Don Armado, who flounces around the stage like a peacock to great effect to Edward Bennett’s Berowne – who can come across as slightly pompous in places, but also well meaning is a wonderfully charismatic performance. Every line from every character is delivered with great precision and great personality.
While there are some lovely touches of detail and slapstick used throughout, Christopher Luscombe’s production tends to get slightly carried away, which means it can lack in emotional impact and the story loses focus.
It is a production that feels as though it has a slight childishness about it, which will be appreciated by some but others might find it tedious towards the end. However, it is still an entertaining if slightly unbelievable production.
Next up is a sparkling production of Much Ado About Nothing, which is perhaps a stronger piece for Christopher Luscombe to work with, given the hint of more drama in the play it means the comedy is slightly more contained and sharper than in Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Set in 1918, Much Ado About Nothing is more about romantic entanglements, jealousy and betrayal that gives it a strong edge and allows for more character development.
But this is not to say that there aren’t some extremely funny moments to be found in the production. For example, the Christmas tree is put to very good use in the scene in which Benedick overhears his friends discussing Beatrice’s love for him and Nick Haverson’s performance as Dogberry is filled with great humour and slapstick.
As in Love’s Labour’s Lost, the use of music reflects the era perfectly, really enhancing the production well, combining classical along with contemporary music that was coming through at the time. But at times by having the cast singing, it can distract slightly from the story and perhaps would have been better having it in the background.
But once again, the performances are extremely strong, with Edward Bennett once again standing out as Benedick, slightly overconfident and inconsiderate but is able to develop into something more substantial particularly after the disgrace of Hero. His chemistry wirh Lisa Dillon as Beatrice is spot on, their sparring delightful to listen to and sharply observant. Dillon’s portrayal of Beatrice is cynical and yet she is still able to capture her more vulnerable side particularly when she asks Benedick to kill Claudio.
Sam Alexander as Don John provides a subtle and cool performance that is effective – as seen by the small look of triumph he has on his face when Claudio confronts Hero and Tunji Kasim also gives an elegantly charming performance of the easily led Claudio.
It is a strong, warm-hearted and passionate production that showcases the talents of the Royal Shakespeare perfectly and is great festive treat to enjoy.
Overall Verdict: a strong duo of plays that complement each other well, but Much Ado About Nothing is perhaps the stronger production and truly lifts the spirits of the audience. Even if you only are able to catch one it is certainly worth a visit to the Theatre Royal Haymarket.
Love’s Labour Lost and Much Ado About Nothing will play at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until the 18th March 2017. For more information and to book tickets visit: http://www.trh.co.uk/whats-on/events/