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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Royal Shakespeare Company Love's Labour's Won

I just saw the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Love's Labour's Won.

It's a great show -- and you shouldn't miss it!

It is being shown around the world, and you can find a showing here:

The RSC paired this play with Love's Labour's Lost, which I saw last week. My review of that is here.

Love's Labour's Won is considered by some to be the alternate title of Much Ado About Nothing, and after seeing Lost and Won back to back, there is a very convincing case to be made that these plays belong together. 

Rosaline and Berowne in Lost could very well be the basis for Beatrice and Benedick in Won. The innocence and playfulness in Lost turns more bitter in Won. The lightness of Lost is now heavy in Won.

Both plays benefit greatly by being put together. 

I have enjoyed Lost by itself. But now that I consider what might happen to the characters after the play ends, and think of how eventually everything will work as it should, and the lovers will be united, the journey to that happy resolution is now longer and more complicated.

I always enjoy Much Ado About Nothing, but now that I have a greater understanding of who and what Beatrice and Benedick were before that story begins, I feel like I know them even better, and appreciate them more than ever before.

One of the most important creative decisions by the RSC for these plays, besides pairing them together, is the idea to set them on either side of World War I -- with Lost set in 1914 and Won in 1918. So, at the end of Lost, Berowne and the other Lords march off to war, and at the beginning of Won, Benedick returns from war.

It is a very good idea, and it helps make the plays more meaningful in many ways, it makes the emotions much more moving. As I watched Lost, I could anticipate the horrors of war that Berowne and the other Lords would suffer, and the play becomes more bittersweet.

As I watched Won, I could appreciate how Benedick could be so hard-hearted and cold to Beatrice, and to love in general. 

Sam Alexander as Don John

Perhaps more importantly, the villainous Don John has returned from war with physical wounds. His disability made me sympathise for him at first. But then as he conspires to destroy Claudio's marriage to Hero, it became harder for me to entirely dislike him. In any event, his disability due to the war created a more complex character.

In previous productions I have seen, when Beatrice asks Benedick to fight and kill Claudio, for having broken Hero's heart at the altar, the moment is more funny than anything else. In this production, she is asking a man who has seen terrible things in war to murder his close friend. The moment here is not funny, and the implications are more compelling. When Benedick finally agrees to her request, to murder Claudio, it is a more profound decision for him.

Christopher Luscombe, the director, has done an outstanding job of creating two unforgettable plays and by combining them, elevating both at the same time. I can't wait to see them again, and these are productions well worth watching more than once.

The cast is top notch, and each actor shines, but as an ensemble they are better than their individual performances.

Michelle Terry as Beatrice

Michelle Terry is brilliant as Beatrice. She has such a command of the character, and even more amazingly is the fact that she makes sense of both Rosaline and Beatrice as almost the same character. The sweet but strong Rosaline has become a Beatrice who starts off as almost too strong, and too cold, almost unlikeable. But as the play progresses she begins to thaw and watching her melt and become sweet again is just marvellous! It breaks your heart, and I could see most of the audience break into tears of joy.

Edward Bennett as Benedick

Edward Bennett is fantastic. He makes the transition from Berowne to Benedick seem easy. I love how he finds as many opportunities to clown around on stage as possible. The many gags involving the christmas tree are priceless! As his cold heart melts and he falls in love with Beatrice, it is both hilarious and very moving. 

I hope you discover this Love's Labour's Lost and Love's Labour's Won for yourself. Together they create something of an instant classic, since they unlike any other production you have seen.


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