Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Christopher Luscombe
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
For the press day, the two productions from the Royal Shakespeare Company at Chichester Theatre of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing are presented one after the other. Whether Much Ado is indeed the lost Love’s Labour’s Won has been much debated but it is certainly an interesting experience to see both plays back-to-back with the same creative team, the same set, the same musical themes, the same actors, albeit in some cases playing very different roles, and with the plays staged in the same period of early 20th Century England. It provides food for thought and given the time and the energy it is worth taking the opportunity to see both productions close together.
But of course, they stand on their own and once again Chichester and The RSC has come up with some excellent entertainment. For both the Shakespeare aficionado, and for those less well versed in his writing, this is a delight. Inevitably it takes time to become accustomed to the language at the beginning of the play and thus the setting of the scene in which the King of Navarre, played by Sam Alexander, swears himself with three of his followers to a period of self-enforced abstinence from female company and is then confounded by the announcement of the imminent arrival of the Princess of France, played by Leah Whitaker, and three of her supporters, takes a bit of following. But from then on the audience is carried on an effortless journey through the playing out of this farcical situation as the two groups spar with each other en route to their inevitable unions with the assistance of some of Shakespeare’s more memorable poetry and a fair slice of his doggerel verse.
It is a clever production. Shakespeare has that quality of being able to survive all manner of different settings but,in this case, Christopher Luscombe’s decision to take it to a country house in the England of the 20th Century is inspired. This setting lends itself to an elaborate and hugely attractive set, designed by Simon Higlett, which uses much of the wizardry housed behind and beneath Chichester’s thrust stage. Luscombe uses this setting to create any number of fascinating tableaux, his players use the available space to the full and there are any number of quirky moments along the way which keep the audience honest.
His cast do not let him down. Central to the piece is the relationship between Rosaline, played feistily by Lisa Dillon, and her suitor Berowne, always ready with a witty comment, played by Edward Bennett. These two give stylish performances and are ably backed up by the others in the cast, notably the aforementioned Alexander and Whitaker who give a sensitive portrayal of their growing affection for each other. Along the way Jamie Newall as Lord Boyet, a suave equerry to the princess and Steven Pacey, the verbose schoolmaster Holofernes, give particularly memorable performances.
The music adds the final touch. Nigel Hess’s score is a vibrant one which reflects both the triumphal and popular music of the times, provides opportunity for some individual singing, particularly by Peter McGovern as Moth, and supplies tremendous energy to the slapstick efforts of The Nine Worthies in that time honoured Shakespearean device of the play within a play.
And what a finish. A real poignant moment as all this dramatic energy comes to a head, the four pairs of lovers, having committed themselves to the Princess’s stipulations as the play comes full circle, go forward into what we know as a very uncertain future.
Runs until 29 October 2016 | Image:Manuel Harlan