Showing as part of the BBC’S Culture in Quarantine series, this Royal Shakespeare Company 2014 production, often wondered to be the missing Love’s Labour’s Won, was originally the latter half of a comic double bill – the first half being Love’s Labour’s Lost – devised by director Christopher Luscombe and designer Simon Higlett, and was live screened to cinema in 2015.
In a clever re-staging, the action is set in December 2018 at the country house of Leonato (David Horovitch), and which has been converted to serve as a hospital, with daughter Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) and cousin Beatrice (Michelle Terry) replete in nurses uniforms.
Prince Don Pedro (John Hodgkinson) leads the returning soldiers which include his illegitimate brother Don John (Sam Alexander), Claudio (Tunji Kasim), and Benedick (Edward Bennett), and it is with some inevitability that Claudio is drawn to Hero as much as Benedick and Beatrice are apparently not. But the jealous, and perhaps shell-shocked, Don John is unhappy with his lot in life, and with crutches in hand, sets out to turn the tables on rival Claudio with the assistance of Borachio (Chris Nayak) and Conrad (William Belchambers). With everyone pre-occupied with the forthcoming nuptials, will master constable Dogberry (Nick Haverson) and the nightwatch manage to catch the culprits in action and report back in time to ensure a happy ending after all? It’s all twists and turns and the outcome will certainly not be what you are expecting.
The beautiful sets and costumes of this 2015 production perfectly evoke the period following the Great War when hopes for the future lifted the spirits following deep tragedy that had affected everyone in the country, making it particularly relevant to the pandemic experiences of recent months.
It is great to have live musical accompaniment (Rebecca Gibson Swift; Ivor McGregor; Elaine Ackers; Mat Heighway; Andrew Stone-Fewings; Kevin Waterman; John Woolf) and Nigel Hess’ score resonates with the underlying moods and moments of the piece from the moving ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ that opens the second act to the light hearted romance of ‘Come Live With Me and Be My Love’ and the crooning musical numbers that see the cast ditch their early uniforms for the black tie and flapper dresses of a masked ball.
The cast are accomplished displaying superb comic timing, with Terry and Bennett in particular excelling, both individually and in partnership where their natural chemistry – an essential ingredient for the successful delivery of this play – comes to the fore, and it is all too easy to believe the flippancy and fun of their characters with all that they have been through. With some cleverly choreographed slapstick scenes injected at the right moments to break up the tension, I can honestly say I haven’t laughed so much in ages and the re-imagining of Act 2 Scene 3 with the Christmas tree is one of the best and funniest bits of theatre I have ever seen: this production is worth watching for that scene alone which is the most delightful farce.
This is a wonderful production that resonates with recent challenges and offers the perfect dose of escapism that we all desire and deserve. A must see.
Much Ado About Nothing will be screened on BBC4 on Sunday 5th July at 21:00 as part of the BBC Culture in Quarantine season and will be available on iPlayer until the end of July 2020.
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 4th July 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★