Much Ado About Nothing (or Love’s Labour’s Won)
RSC @ Theatre Royal Haymarket
Cast Includes Edward Bennett as Benedick, Lisa Dillon as Beatrice and Steven Pacey as Leonato
Running Time: 2 hours 30 mins inc. interval
The RSC double-bill of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing has had a long history behind it – starting life in 2014 at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, it has then travelled to London via Chichester. Along the way, there have been a few cast changes, but this is mainly the same production that is showing in Theatre Royal Haymarket.
The setting of the play in an Edwardian Christmas is a good one – the two plays straddle the First World War, with Love’s Labours Lost preceding it and Much Ado About Nothing set after. This is effective – it provides context for Don Juan’s hatred of happiness and also set up the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick nicely.
The central sparring partnership between Beatrice and Benedick is essential – it is arguably why the play has been revived as often as it has because it is a delight to see two skilful actors playing off each other such as it was with Edward Bennett and Lisa Dillon. The pair were an absolute delight – able to bring both the comedy to the lighter parts but also the gravitas the role requires in the later scenes (namely the ‘Kill Claudio’ scenes.)
The cast are all uniformly excellent, with an good ensemble feeling. Other than Dillon and Bennett, particular highlights for me included Steven Pacey as Leonato, especially during the wedding scene – he brought genuine anger at Hero’s supposed actions – in some versions this can seem very forced or awkward however it was exceptionally engaging.
There is also a feeling that the humour is really played with in Christopher Luscombe’s vision of the play. The piece feels alive – this is not a dry or dull version of the text. From Dogberry’s highly slapstick and comical scenes to the musical interludes of ‘Come With Me And Be My Love’, the audience is fully engaged in this visual treat.
The staging of the play is also beautiful. The set is wonderful – it really feels like a traditional Christmas at a country estate. The outdoor scenes also actually crisply wintery, no mean feat on a West End stage and throughout the course of the play we actually do feel transported to Charlecote Park, the country house the set is based upon.
Summary: A beautiful staging of the Shakespearean classic, with a great central casting of Beatrice and Benedick and wonderful ensemble cast. *****