A wonderful additional to this years offerings celebrating 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, The RSC bring not one but two of the Bard’s works to Manchester this Christmas time. Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing, argued by some that the latter is another name for Shakespeare’s missing play, Love’s Labour’s Won, the similarities between the two are plentiful, both being set on a large county estate, sparring couples, masked encounters, mistaken identities and of course hilarious high jinx including overheard and secretly observed sonnets. Playing back to back at Manchester’s Opera House before heading to the Theatre Royal Haymarket , both productions are an absolute triumph.
Opening with the King of Navarre (Sam Alexander) and his three Lords, Berowne (Edward Bennett), Longaville (William Belchambers), and Dumaine (Tunji Kasim), swearing an oath which includes avoiding contact with women for a lengthy three years, shortly followed by the arrival of the beautiful Princess of France (Leah Whitaker) and her ladies Rosaline (Lisa Dillon), Katharine (Rebecca Collingworth) and Maria (Paige Carter) it soon becomes clear this was an oath that was never going to easily run it’s course. Cue much merriment and classic Shakespearean rhyme while completly against their oath the Lords fall in love with the ladies and of course the King with the Princess.
Don Armado (John Hodgkinson), a Spaniard visiting the King’s court, is also hit by Cupid’s bow, but rather than with a Lady of the court he is taken by Jaquenetta, (Emma Manton) a local dairymaid who has recently been found cavorting with Costard (Nick Haverson) the gardner. So ensues the writing of love notes, delivered of course to the wrong recipient. The unconventional courtships continue with a wonderful scene where we see the King and his Lords disguising themselves as travelling Muscovites which leads to hilarious scenes of Russian dancing and the ladies switching identities themselves through the swapping of favours received by the Lords and the use of elegant masks.
Working with the same company of actors and setting both plays either side of the Great War adds real poignancy to the ending of Love’s Labour’s Lost, sometimes described at the ‘unfinished play’ the merriment and frivolity of the play comes to an abrupt end when the King and his Lord’s head off to war, much as life for many must have been as their young men suddenly headed off to the battlefields of Northern France.
The cast are exceptional, the talent on stage an absolute joy to watch, from Edward Bennett’s brilliant Berowne to John Hodgkinson’s hilarious Don Armado the comic timing and delivering of the Bard’s script is just perfection. Special mention to Peter McGovern whose Moth was magnificent, not to mention his Hercules in the ‘Nine Worthies’ which had the audience in hysterics.
Visually stunning, Simon Higlet’s set is outstanding, with scene changes flowing beautifully due to the ingenious use of a large sliding truck and sub-stage trap. Where Much Ado is festive and twinkling, Love’s Labour’s Lost takes place in the summertime of 1914 when skies are blue and poppies, in a nod to the impending Great War are plentiful. Melody Wood’s luxurious costumes are delightful, perfectly encapsulating the period. The use of music by Nigel Hess, directed by Bob Broad, further enhances this production, filmically underscoring certain moments and offering some challenging vocal pieces which the cast embrace wonderfully.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is an absolute joy, highly entertaining and wonderfully acted. Playing at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 3rd December.