This brilliantly funny sequel to Love’s Labour’s Lost sees the setting of Charlecote Park turned into a hospital.
Beatrice is a nurse, and Benedick a soldier returning from the First World War at Christmas.
RSC artistic director Gregory Doran wanted to test out the theory that Shakespeare Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won belonged together so they are running concurrently at this theatre and Christopher Luscombe directs both.
Both plays share many similarities. At the centre are two witty, bickering couples, played here by the excellent Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry.
The heady, optimistic love of the young twentysomethings in Love’s Labour’s Lost dissipates here and instead we get the wise and world-weary cynicism of Benedick and Beatrice, who both swear they will never to get married. Their friends, however, cunningly plot to make them fall in love.
There is an hilarious drawing room scene where Benedick hides behind brocade curtains to eavesdrop on his friends. Balthasar is playing the piano and Benedick’s head pops out of the curtains and nearly hits the roof in shock when he hears of Beatrice’s supposed love for him. Comically, his head next appears in the middle of the Christmas tree and then on top inside a star, which lights up nearly electrocuting him. He walks out hair on end coughing up smoke.
There is a lovely, fizzing chemistry between Edward’s Benedick and Michelle’s Beatrice; set against the sweet naivety of Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) and Claudio (Tunji Kasim).
The ingenuity of Simon Higlett’s set in recreating the rooms and grounds of this elegant Tudor house is remarkable and the musical score by composer Nigel Hess is equally impressive as he brings to life the sounds of post-war Britain.
Three set pieces particularly stand out, as they pop up from under the stage.
There is the snooker table around which evil Don John and Conrade plot against Count Claudio and Don Pedro, Hero’s dressing room and Dogberry’s cramped police station –which has to be the funniest scene in both plays.
Villanous Brummie footman Borachio, a nice turn by Chris Nayak, and Conrade has been arrested after the night watch uncovers the plot to shame Hero. They are taken in for questioning “We must exterminate these men” says constable Dogberry (the fantastic Nick Haverson), meaning interrogate. Several men are squashed into a tiny space big enough for a dining table resulting in some hysterical physical comedy.
Love’s Labour’s Won has a beautiful ending as the two couples agree to a double-wedding, which includes the entire cast breaking into a 1920’s flapper dance.
Seeing both performances in a five-hour double-bill is like curling up to watch a theatrical box set It was thoroughly enjoyable.
Running time: 2hrs 40mins including interval
Runs until March 14, 2015. For tickets visit the RSC website