Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 03/10/2014 – 14/3/2015 Even if weren’t true, it is a wonderful idea: Shakespeare’s Much Ado as the sequel to the unsolved troubles of Love’s Labour’s Lost. The characters fit almost seamlessly, even if the names vary, and this is just the continuation one was longing for after enjoying the “first episode”. The consistency in ensemble, stage design and music rounds director Chris Luscombe’s tandem production into a bubbly romantic complete story. At the end of Love’s Labour’s Lost, the men went to fight in the First World War, in this, better known play, they have returned and they are trying to rebuild their lives.
We find them at Christmas time 1918. Beatrice (Michelle Terry) has been through tough times as a VAD nurse and she is trying to come to terms with new realities through increased snappiness, whilst her somewhat more delicate cousin Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) only too happily seeks refuge in the arms of Count Claudio (Tunji Kasim). Claudio is, for today’s audiences, a character that is rather difficult to understand, but Tunji
Kasim draws him so boyishly cute when it comes to romance, defencelessly aggressive in the play’s cruel scenes and thoroughly shaken by fate, that he becomes recognisable in the 21st century. Edward Bennet, who previously conquered the audience’s hearts as Berowne, now creates an unforgettably wonderful confused Benedick: His eavesdropping scene from behind the giant Christmas tree is a safe bet to cause sore laugh muscles.
Sam Alexander, as Benedicks frustrated brother, the sinister Don John, skilfully drags the emotional waves back down to shivering suspense. However, the roller coaster effect is guaranteed: Shakespeare’s play-within-the play is gloried in to ecstasy point, the scenes with the night watch and the police station might harm the odd eye make-up. The innumerable wonderful little ideas keep generating tumultuous slapstick fun. Nick Haverson here plays the part of the yattering Constable Dogberry and he just accumulates highlight on highlight. With hilarious officious pomposity and lovingly, yet screamingly funny vulnerability, complete with a tragicomic tic, he controls the audience relentlessly – absolute master class.
Many of the smaller parts shine through similar attention to detail. David Horovitch is a destroyed father-of-the-bride Leonato, Jamie Newall a fine, warm-hearted Friar Francis, Emma Manton and Frances McNamee delightfully funny ladies-in-waiting, moreover Chris Nayak as the dubious servant Borachio (fabulous RSC debut), the wonderful Chris McCalphy as Sexton, Peter McGovern, Oliver Lynes and Roderick Smith as the other watchmen and, and, and … great ensemble theatre. Balthasar, Antonio’s son, does not contribute much to the plot, Harry Waller, however, is more than that. In this part, he assumes a major musical function, singing and playing the piano.
Nigel Hess’s wonderful music weaves through the entire play and is sure to remain a lasting memory. Set design: Simon Higlett. Best watched in sequence, but also individually a treat! Photos by Manuel Harlan © RSC also posted in German under http://artyviews.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/gefuhlsachterbahn-im-herrenhaus-loves-labours-won-gewonnene-liebesmuh-oder-viel-larm-um-nichts/