Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Christopher Luscombe
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
The Royal Shakespeare Company and Chichester Festival Theatre treat the press to a double bill of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing, presented one after the other, raising the often debated subject of is Much Adoindeed the lost Love’s Labour’s Won.
Here is a chance 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 set in the same time frame 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 the two productions close together.
But it is not necessary to see both to enjoy this excellent performance of the classic comedy, Shakespeare’s take on the war between the sexes. It is the love story between Beatrice, sharp as a needle and disdainful of the opposite sex, and Benedick, himself never short of a sarcastic response and committed to his bachelor existence, who are united by the machinations of their friends and relations before the background of the wronging of Hero, Beatrice’s cousin, slandered for infidelity by her suitor.
The acting is pacey. Lisa Dillon as Beatrice and Edward Bennett strike sparks off each other from the word go and who knows what the future has in store for them. Steven Pacey as Leonato is at one moment a benign father figure and the next a distraught parent while Sam Alexander plays the villainous Don John with convincing cynicism.
And it is funny. The sowing of the seeds of love between Benedick and Beatrice is achieved with much merriment and ridiculous contrivance and the committal of the slanderers by Dogberry, played by Nick Haverson, and the other villagers, although marred by reliance on too many mannerisms and strange accents does create some very amusing situations.
It bears the directorial stamp of Christopher Luscombe. Slickly put together with lots of group scenes carefully plotted and a host of small touches from the repetition of hand gestures to the belly laugh of the Christmas tree. The choice of the English country house immediately post First World War is ideal and reinforces Shakespeare’s enduring qualities of remaining relevant in any number of different environments. And this environment allows Simon Higlett to create a very impressive set, using Chichester’s gizmos and stage potential to the full. Nigel Hess’s musical score is the icing on the cake. Redolent of popular music of the time but interspersed with echoes of the tunes of the War, at times sombre at times merry, and notable for some very good singing either from the whole company or in particular by Harry Waller, as Balthasar, the Noel Coward figure at the piano.
It is splendid entertainment, combining enough for the real lover of Shakespeare and a lot for anyone just out for a good night at the theatre.
Runs until 29 October 2016 | Image: Manuel Harlan