Friday, March 13, 2015

love’s labour’s lost… and won

Moira and I immersed ourselves in a little Shakespeare yesterday by seeing back-to-back plays, “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and “Love’s Labour’s Won” (otherwise known as “Much Ado About Nothing”) at the RSC in Stratford.
They were both simply stunning.
The plays, both directed by the excellent Christopher Luscombe, were staged to mark the centenary of the First World War. The productions were designed to straddle the Great War and both plays were to be set in a stately home (the originals were located on a country estate – “Lost” in northern Spain and “Won” in Sicily).
In the current production, “Lost” is set in June 1914 (two years before the start of WW1) and begins with four young men deciding to swear an oath to dedicate themselves to study for 3 years, giving up the “society of women”. No sooner have they signed their names than four attractive young ladies appear on the scene… and, of course, the men court the ladies and declare their undying love to each of them (I won’t go into details!). The play ends with the women insisting that the men show their commitment by waiting a year… and only then will they accept the men’s proposals. In the final scene, the men depart in military uniform to face the uncertainty and terror of war.
“Won” is set in December 1918. The war is over and soldiers are returning. The country house is recovering from having been pressed into service as a hospital during the war. It’s a time of huge relief for those who’ve survived the war… a time to pick up the pieces of life before the conflict, a time for love, for recovery and, for many, a time for reflection on events that had transpired, injuries endured and lives lost. However, it would take me far too long to go into all the details (and you probably know the plot any way – I think I must have seen the play at least four times?)… needless to say, it involves more love and conflict!
As you might imagine from the RSC, the acting across the entire company is absolutely excellent.  However, the stand-out stars are Edward Bennett (Berowne in “Lost” and Benedict in “Won”) and Michelle Terry (Rosaline in “Lost” and Beatrice in “Won”). Both actors truly captivated the audiences in both plays with performances that encapsulated passion, poignancy, tenderness and humour in huge measure (and when I say that the actors captivated the audiences, I really do mean it – at various times, Bennett and Terry really did have them in the palms of their hands (as it were). One moment laughing uncontrollably and the next desperately holding back the tears. The audiences absolutely adored them both.
Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett were utterly outstanding.
The music also played an important part in both productions. The company, as a whole, clearly includes some very gifted singers… and I particularly enjoyed composer Nigel Hess’s ability to blend the music of Cole Porter and Noel Coward (but, hey, what do I know?).
I’m always fascinated and amazed by the talents of the creative team in such productions. Simon Higlett’s design for both plays utilised elements from nearby Charlecote Park – with its twin octagonal  towers, lawns, imposing façade and great hall – travelling through the house and grounds using a large sliding “truck” and a “substage trap” to make scene changes as swift as possible. Blimey, they were breath-takingly good!
A wonderful, truly memorable, theatrical experience.
PS: One massive bonus for us was that our lovely friend Sam Alexander was part of this remarkable and talented company (very impressively playing the King of Navarre in “Lost” and the rather sinister Don John in “Won”) and we enjoyed an excellent early supper with him at the RSC’s Terrace Restaurant between the plays!
PPS: I fell in love with Flora Spencer-Longhurst (who played Katherine in “Lost” and Hero in “Won”)!

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