Much Ado about Love's Labour's Lost and Won (RST, September 2014 to March 12th 2015)

I thought that the RSC’s idea to pair  Love’s Labour’s Lost with Much Ado About Nothing was an interesting one, and provided an opportunity to explore the two plays together.  The rationale behind this decision was that Much Ado About Nothing must be the lost play, Love’s Labour’s Won, and so the RSC called it’s production of Much Ado About Nothing as Love’s Labour’s Won.  Indeed, there was much that worked well in the juxtaposition between the two plays. The concept allowed the director, Christopher Luscombe  to set the two plays at either side of the first world war.  Love’s Labour’s Lost ended with the four men, now soldiers, going to war.  In Much Ado About Nothing the play commenced with the soldiers returning from the first world war. The pre-war and post-war periods worked well in giving the two households a claustrophobic feel where there wasn’t much they could do but play at being scholars, and lovers.  What also worked very well was that Love’s Labour’s Lost  was set in the Sunmer.  There was a nice touch was the poppies in the background in one scene.  Much Ado About Nothing became a winter play and presented the company with an opportune moment to include a Christmas element in Much Ado About Nothing as it played over the Christmas period. Indeed, Benedick’s gulling scene made much use of the Christmas tree.

The set was stunning.  Modelled on Charlecote close to Stratford-Upon-Avon, the productions took place in different rooms, and the audience was presented with interiors and exteriors as well as the chapel, but the star piece was  the scene on the roof in Love’s Labour’s Lost.  A determination to set up different rooms in the house meant that the sight lines in some places were poor. From the ends of the front rows, chairs often obscured views for whole scenes, and these did not improve during the run. Even though this was a thrust stage, I felt that the whole thing was designed for a proscenium arch stage. Moments from both gulling scenes in Much Ado About Nothing were completely lost for audience members sat in seats that were upstage.

The setting of the plays in a specific location and time period also presented an opportunity to explore Englishness, though the revealing of the French flag in Love’s Labour’s Lost felt strange and out of keeping with the whole aesthetic.

In Love’s Labour’s Lost, the women were fabulous, and a lot of the comedy came from their coordinated gestures. Michelle Terry  managed to capture Rosaline’s dry humour, and was able to do this again with her portrayal of Beatrice. The women’s reaction to the men attempting to impress as Russian dancers was very enjoyable.  In Much Ado About Nothing, the pool table trick was impressive, and the masked ball a lot of fun.  There are nice touches such as Costard (Nick Haversham) taking his boots off to enter the house, and noticing the background music.  The duet between Moth and Don Armado (John Hodgkinson) was very funny.  In Much Ado About Nothing, the moving of the furniture in the interrogation of the Watch scene is hilarious and often resulted in applause,  and Dogberry (Nick Haversam) plays up the slapstick.  However, there was a very skillful twist in the scene and the laughter turns to sadness when the audience realises that we are actually laughing at  who is suffering from shell shock.

I felt that more through lines might have been explored. For example, I thought that it might have Sam Alexander playing Don Pedro as well as the king, rather than Don John, which would have given an opportunity to focus on leadership and youth in the two plays. I also thought that and Moth (Peter McGovern) might have returned as the boy and/or Balthezar in Much Ado About Nothing.

Some things changed through the run, such as a comic moment at the start of Love’s Labour’s Lost where the King spins the Globe so that Navarre is visible to the men seemed to disappear after the Live Screening.

It might be possible to say the star of the two productions was the teddy bear in Love’s Labour’s Lost, but Ed Bennett’s stand out performances as Berowne and Benedick were sensational. He mastered the comic timing and draw the audience into the production with him. and perfected the ability to give the impression that he was just about to corpse. His gulling scene in Much Ado About Nothing was the best of slapstick and comedy taking elements from Morecombe and Wise and Some Mother’s Do Have Them. However, Edward Bennett stole the show in the scene where Beatrice is sent to call him in to dinner. Disheveled, Sprawled across the chaise Lounge, covered in powder and Christmas decorations trying to look sexy eating a chocolate. His determination to woo. but appearing to look so uncomfortable, was masterful.

Much Ado About Nothing is becoming one of my favourite plays. It’s funny and it’s dark. Here it was cut and some of the emotional complexity was lost.  That was a shame because I think the production was able to explore those elements in the depth they deserved and could have done that alongside the song and humour that the production gained.

It looked like the RSC struggled to market Love’s Labour’s Won and were constantly having to add the Much Ado tag line for clarity.  The line in Much Ado About Nothing, ‘few of any sort and none of name’ have died, and that line had to be cut because it was just so inappropriate in reference to the first world war.  It was clear that Berowne and Benedick are two very different characters.  What the experiment did for me was show  that Much Ado About Nothing is not the sequel to Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Reviews, previews

Storify Link


Charlecote Park


Love’s Labour’s LostSam Alexander – King of Navarre
Peter Basham – Gamekeeper
William Belchambers – Longaville
Edward Bennett – Berowne
Nick Haverson – Costard
John Hodgkinson – Don Armado
David Horovitch – Holofernes
Tunji Kasim – Dumaine
Sophie Khan Levy – Housemaid
Oliver Lynes – Footman
Emma Manton – Jaquenetta
Chris McCalphy – Dull
Frances McNamee – Maria
Peter McGovern – Moth
Chris Nayak – Footman
Jamie Newall – Boyet
Roderick Smith – Marcadé
Flora Spencer-Longhurst – Katharine
Michelle Terry – Rosaline
Harry Waller – Gamekeeper
Thomas Wheatley – Sir Nathaniel
Leah Whitaker – Princess of France
Love’s Labour’s WonSam Alexander – Don John
Peter Basham – Butler
William Belchambers – Conrade
Edward Bennett – Benedick
Nick Haverson – Dogberry
John Hodgkinson – Don Pedro
David Horovitch – Leonato
Tunji Kasim – Claudio
Sophie Khan Levy – Housemaid
Oliver Lynes – Soldier
Emma Manton – Margaret
Chris McCalphy – Sexton
Frances McNamee – Ursula
Peter McGovern – George Seacoal
Chris Nayak – Borachio
Jamie Newall – Friar Francis
Roderick Smith – Verges
Flora Spencer-Longhurst – Hero
Michelle Terry – Beatrice
Harry Waller – Balthasar
Thomas Wheatley – Antonio

Top Lists of 2013


Top Shakespeare

1.  All’s Well That Ends Well, (RSC RST and Theatre Royal Newcastle).
2.  As You Like It (RSC, RST and Theatre Royal Newcastle).
3.  Titus Andronicus (RSC, Swan Theatre).
4.  Julius Caesar (Donmar Warehouse).
5.  The Taming of the Shrew (Propeller, Newcastle Theatre Royal)
6.  Macbeth (Trafalgar Studios).
7.  Richard II (RSC, RST and Barbican).
8.  Othello (National Theatre).
9.  Hamlet (RSC, RST and Theatre Royal Newcastle).
10.  Twelfth Night (Propeller, Newcastle Theatre Royal).
11.  Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse).
12. As You Like it (Globe).
13,  Macbeth (Globe).
14. Henry V (Noel Coward Theatre).
15.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Globe).
16. The Merry Wives of Windsor (RST).
17.  The Winter’s Tale, (RST and York Grand Opera House).
18.  Richard III (York Theatre Royal).
19. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Noel Coward Theatre).
20. The Tempest (Globe).

Top Theatre (Not Shakespeare)

1.  The Effect – Lucy Prebble  (National Theatre).
2.  This House – James Graham (National Theatre).
3.  Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon and Simon Stephens (National Theatre at the Apollo).
4.  Edward II – Christopher Marlowe (National Theatre).
5.  Talk Show  – Alistair McDowall (Royal Court).
6.  A Boy and His Soul  – Colman Domingo (Tricycle).
7.  A Mad World My Masters – Thomas Middleton (Swan).
8.  Jumpers for Goalposts –  Tom Wells (Bush Theatre).
9.  Blink – Phil Porter (Soho Theatre).
10. Chalk Farm  – Kieran Hurley and A.J. Taudevin (Underbelly, Edinburgh Fringe Festival).
11.  There Has Possibly Been an Incident – Chris Thorpe (Northern Stage at St Stephen’s, Edinburgh Fringe Festival).
12.  Same Deep Water as Me – Nick Payne  (Donmar).
13.  Feast -Yunior Garcia Aguilera, Rotimi Babatunde, Marcos Barbosa, Tanya Barfield, Gbolahan Obisesan (Young Vic/Royal Court).
14.  The Victorian in the Wall – Will Aamsdale (Royal Court).
15.  Let the Right One In – John Ajvide Lindqvist and Jack Thorne (Royal Court)
16.  The Weir – Conor McPherson (Donmar)
17.  Wot? No Fish! – Danny Braverman (Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe Festival)
18.  Home – David Storey (Arcola).
19.  Candide – Mark Ravenhill (Swan).
20.  Choose Your One Documentary – Nathan Pennington (Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh Fringe Festival).


1. David Bowie (Victoria and Albert)
2. Pre-Raphaelites (Tate Britain)
3.  Life and Death in Pompeii (British Museum)
4.  Lowry (Tate Britain)
5.  Elizabeth I and Her People (National Portrait Gallery)
6.  Paul Klee (Tate Modern)
7.  Manet. Portraying Life. Royal Academy
8.  Summer Show (Royal Academy)
9.   Peer Doig (National Gallery of Scotland)
10. Glam The Performance of Style (Tate, Liverpool)

Titus Andronicus (The Swan 16th May to 25th October)

The trailer for this production promises lots of blood, and you go you won’t be disappointed if that’s what you expect.  Of course, if that’s your thing,  one of the highlights has to be sitting in the front row and getting splattered in blood.  However, it is stage blood so it washes out very easily, and it’s part of the fun of live theatre.

One of the great things about blog reviews is that you can see a production develop and grow before reviewing it.  I first saw the production on its first preview, and I knew that this production was going to be good, but there was little stage blood (because they had run out)  and it hadn’t found the pace that it’s now got in the middle of the run.  Now this is not to be missed production with an ensemble that are working extremely well together in the Swan theatre across three shows ( also A Mad World My Masters and Candide).

When the audience enters the stage they are faced with three bodies on stretchers being tended to by nurses.  There is a strange speech coming from the radio.  One of the nurses (Badria Timimi), moves forwards and lights up a cigarette and the play has begun.  This is a strange world,which is  not in the past or present or future, but in a mixture of all three.

It is not just the blood that is a highlight in this production Katy Stephens is absolutely mesmerizing as Tamora.  Jonny Weldon and Perry Millward are outstanding as Chiron and Demetrius.  Kevin Harvey plays Aaron with a lovely musical voice and with such skill.  The way Aaron says ‘Just a line in Horace’ gives it such power.  His love for the baby is very moving.   We see Tamora, Aaron, Chiron and Demetrius supporting each other from the start as they are in chains and are captives of the Roman Army.  This  gives  a clear rationale why these four stick together, and support each other.  I particularly liked the two Goth brothers cycling round the stage before the rape of Lavinia (Rose Reynolds), and the way that Aaron reasons with them that rape is the best course of action leading to the horrific scene.  These are four performances that you just can’t take your eyes off.

What is exceptional about Katy Stephens’ performance is that at the start she is playing the captive emotional mother and the piercing howl she gives when her eldest son is butchered, but throughout the performance she becomes bolder as the Empress and transforms.  She also get to wear the most amazing outfits and shoes.  Tamora is particularly chilling when she sets up the murder of Bassianus, and is unmoved by Lavinia’s pleading, delighting in the fact that her sons are about to rape and mutilate her.  There’s a lovely moment in the final scene where Lavinia stares at Tamora across the dining table, and Tamora, at first puzzled, realises that Lavinia has revealed all.  Why does Tamora take another spoonful of the pie when she knows the truth?  For me, this moment revealed her shock and horror at finding out the truth, but she hesitates to believe it at first.

Stephen Boxer gives a very solid performance as Titus.  Like King John, he makes crucial errors in moving from war to peace. His decision to murder Alarbus (Nicholas Prasad) in front of his family is disastrous, as is his rash slaughter of his son  Mutius (Harry Mcentire), for disobeying him.  It is possible to believe that he oscillates through madness and grief and it becomes hard to believe that he will be taken in by Tamora’s playacting as Revenge, giving an energy and tension to the penultimate scene.

Rose Reynolds performance  as Lavinia is extremely good.  She plays as determined and it is right she fights back when Titus smothers her in the final scene.  As other bloggers have commentated it is not always clear why Marcus (Richard Durden) does not move to hug Lavinia when he finds her mutilated in the woods.

There’s a great performance from John Hopkins as Saturninus.  He brings such a wry humour to the role.  For example when he is to be crowned he turns to the audiences and gives a satisfied smile. At one point he is sat in a bath wearing his crown, which is a very humorous, and this is added to by the fact that he is also naked.

The scenes with Lucius and the Goths are lovely contrasts to the Roman scenes.  The drums bring in a thundering beat at a moment in the play, when the it feels that things can’t get any worse. Titus has been tricked into chopping off his hand, Lucius and has been banished and Lavinia has been horrifically mutilated.  Sarah Ridgeway plays a very convincing Goth queen showing her versatility across several roles this season.  It was a great decision to go into the interval at the moment when Lucius is branded by the Goths and there is a screech in the air.

The finale is great fun. the fact that most of the characters are dead on stage leads to some very serious lines becoming very funny.  We are left with two startling images. The first is the unrepentant Aaron left to die buried in a pit with just his head exposed, and the second is Young Lucius walking across the stage with Aaron’s baby.  Young Lucius spies the pie slice and picks it up as Aaron horrifies looks on. The lights go down and we are left to wonder if the child will slaughter the baby, and the brutality will continue to the next generation.

This is  Michael Fentiman’s debut at the Royal Shakespeare Company as a director, but his experience as an assistant director on shows such as Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet has clearly paid off.  Some of the devices used in this production have been influenced by his pervious work such as the use of the raised platform.

There’s even a magic trick in the production. What happens to the bodies that are on stage when you enter the auditorium?  How do they disappear whilst you watch.

This summer is an outstanding Royal Shakespeare Company season in both theatres , which is reassuring after the disappointing lack-lustre shipwreck season last year.   There is more to come including Richard II and hopefully an announcement of a Summer 2014 season coming soon.


Reviews and Previews

My Titus Andronicus Storify page


The new RSC Hamlet is out of joint? (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 14th and 15th March 2013)

Hamlet 19 2013 541x361
Jonathan Slinger as Hamlet and Luke Norris as Laertes in Hamlet. Photo by Keith Pattison © Royal Shakespeare Company

I saw the latest Royal Shakespeare Company Hamlet in previews and I am sure that by the Opening/Press night, the production will have changed considerably since I first saw it. What struck me was on the two nights that I was in the audience was that  there were standing ovations on both nights which suggests that audiences are really enjoying the production.  However, the critical reception has been mixed and there have been some  negative reviews.  I am interested in getting a sense of why some of the reviewers do not specifically like a production that seems to engage its audience.

It seems that it is the set design and the director’s creative choices that irked some critics the most. Charles Spencer makes the point in his The Daily Telegraph review that “[David] Farr is the kind of director who has 20 bright ideas before breakfast and bungs them all on stage to prove how clever he is”.  Furthermore, Clare Brennan in The Observer reflects this with the comment that a “set should not be so distracting”, and concludes that “Jon Bausor’s design, like so much of this production is an infuriating mix-up of self-regarding concepts and sharp ideas”.

David Farr works with the designer Jon Bausor to create busy and elaborate sets. Last year’s RSC shipwreck season presented a stage that became the docks in The Comedy of Errors, a hotel for Twelfth Night and Prospero’s Island.  Indeed, there is something about a David Farr production that makes you think that the stage-play world is just not quite right. Time periods jar against each other and things seem out of place on the stage. For example, in his recent RSC King Lear there was a mixture of modern and old English dress suggested that the Gloucester family existed in another time dimension from the Lear family, and the stage was a eerie industrial scene that didn’t seem to fit in with an ancient Britain setting.  So knowing that David Farr was the director, I was not surprised to be confronted with a cluttered stage and a hall that resembled a fencing school or gym in a public school rather than a palace or castle that is normally expected as the setting for Hamlet. Under the floor of the hall, earth and skulls are clearly visible and a reminder that death underpins this play. In the second half, parts of the stage are removed to represent the piece of land that Hamlet crosses on his way to England and to reveal the earth for the gravedigger’s scene, and the body of Ophelia is left visible on the stage after she has been placed in her grave.

A fencing trope is woven through this production and has an unnerving effect which adds to the feeling that the world of this Hamlet is out of joint. The ghost is first scene in a fencing mask. In 1.2, characters enter in fencing masks to hear Claudius’s speech on the death of old Hamlet and reflect the image of the ghost that we’ve just seen. The fencing suit that Hamlet wears to play his anti disposition can also be seen as a straitjacket. Throughout the production there is a sense of Hamlet fencing and playing with other characters. All these fencing images of course culminate in the final scene with the death of Hamlet.

Michael Billington in The Guardian comments:

Although the emphasis is on Hamlet’s fractured sensibility, the other characters come strongly into focus. Pippa Nixon’s Ophelia is outstanding: a passionate schoolgirl fatally besotted by Hamlet. Greg Hicks, doubling as Claudius and the Ghost, wittily suggests that the former is the practised politician who can never allow the mask to slip, and there’s strong work from Charlotte Cornwell as a conscience-haunted Gertrude and Robin Soans as a sinisterly officious Polonius (Michael Billington in The Guardian).

There are some very strong supporting performances. Pippa Nixon’s Ophelia is very determined.  She snatches moments of passion with Hamlet in secret, but also shows her annoyance and anger after she has treated her so badly in the nunnery scene. In her mad scenes, this determination is evident as she enters in a wedding dress looking as if she truly believes she is about to marry Hamlet and shows her annoyance and impatience when she realises that he isn’t going to turn up.  Not only is Nixon great at playing Ophelia in sanity and in madness, she has to take on the very difficult task of being motionless on stage for such a long period of time as she lays in the grave.

Like Patrick Stewart in the previous RSC Hamlet, Greg Hicks plays both the ghost and Claudius, and there is a suggestion that the brothers might be twins, which adds a complexity to the way that Hamlet responds to his uncle. In this out of joint world Hamlet can embrace the ghost of his father.

The age difference between Alex Waldmann’s Horatio and Jonathan Slinger’s Hamlet is utilised well and it is clear that the younger man is besotted with his older University colleague. Waldmann’s Horatio is there beside Hamlet throughout.  In his performance there are reminders of Waldmann’s Catesby standing beside Richard III in last year’s Swan production in the way Horatio clearly decides where is loyalties are in a world where it would be dangerous to be seen to be plotting against Claudius.

Though there are generally positive reviews of some of the supporting roles including, Hicks, Nixon and Waldmann, the reviews of Slinger’s performance are mixed.  Simon Tavener in his review feels that Slinger, ” employs so many ‘actorly’ tricks, both verbally and physically, that it is hard to see through to the emotional truth of what the character is experiencing”. Michael Billington in The Guardian also commenting on Jonathan Slinger’s performance declares that it “is compelling to watch: he mines every phrase, utters heartwrenching cries of desolate grief and, more than any Hamlet I recall, is obsessed by Ophelia, whose corpse remains visible to the last”.

I felt that as well as some very strong performances from the company, it is Slinger’s performance that dominates this production.  He puts himself out at the front from the very start of the production, sitting on the edge of the front of the thrust stage and mumbling the first line of the play as he starts to take notes in his notebook.  Maybe we are supposed to think that the rest of the play is a dream or in his mind’s eye.  That we don’t know is important because that’s the point. Many of the creative decisions are left unexplained and maybe that leads to some of the frustration expressed in the reviews.

I feel that Singer’s performance is mesmerising. His Hamlet is grief-grief-striken passionate, physical, emotional and intelligent.  He’s also thoughtful, manic and funny. However, I felt little empathy with this Hamlet, because he is also extremely violent. He is covered in blood when he has killed Polonius reminding the audience of the brutality of the act he has just committed and he is particularly violent to Ophelia in the Nunnery scene stripping her down to her underclothes and covering her face with mud. In taking the play away from its Renaissance context, the thirst for revenge feels out and place and unwarranted. As Claudius drinks the poison at the end of the play, he is not like Patrick Stewart’s Claudius who realised that the game is up and that the drinking of the poison was his own last moment of having the upper hand, but because he is the victim of a revenger. In a strange moment of triumph in the final scene, Slinger’s Hamlet puts on the crown and we realise that for a short time he is king.

When I saw this production, Hamlet returns from England wearing a grey suit having ditched his dark crumpled mourning suit.  Not only was his dress a contrast to the rest of the court because they were now in mourning, but there was a suggestion that Hamlet returns as the bridegroom with an expectation of marrying Ophelia. This made his despair at finding himself at Ophelia’s funeral more poignant. I have heard that this has been changed during previews, but I felt that this worked well.

There are lots that has been said about the RSC’s approach to ensemble, and in this company there are several reunions of actors working recently with the RSC. Joining Nixon and Waldmann, are John Stahl, David Fielder, Mark Holgate and Natalie Klamer from last year’s Nations of War Swan season and long ensemble members, Greg Hicks and Oliver Ryan, are making a return to the RSC.  I think seeing how these actors interact in new and established combinations, and in different productions, adds to some of the interest in this summer season.

The last RSC Hamlet (directed by Greg Doran) experimented with mirrors and the audience could see themselves reflected in the set throughout the performance. In this production there is an opaqueness in the earthy set and the appearance of fencing masks, that makes this a very different aesthetic for the audience to engage with.  Maybe there are mixed reviews because Slinger takes risks in the role. He is older and it does seem strange that an actor who has just played Prospero and Malvolio returns to the RSC to play Hamlet.  Yes there are lots of ideas and the production is a little fussy and cluttered at time, but that meant that I felt that I was being constantly surprised.  I felt that there is enough in this production to make it well worth seeing.  I will be interested in seeing how it develops and grows during its run.

Further Information

Visit my storify page

The Royal Shakespeare Company Website

Jonathan Slinger’s Website

Reviews and Previews

The Independent Interview with Jonathan Slinger

The Guardian Interview with Jonathan Slinger

The Observer Review

Coventry Telegraph

The Stratford Observer

The Daily Telegraph

The Guardian

What’s On Stage

The Daily Mail

The Stage

Other Blogs

Partially Obstructed View

Moss Cottage – Dr Peter Buckroyd

Bum on a Seat

David Tennant returns to the RSC to play Richard II

DT as R11
(c) RSC

At a Press Conference in London today, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced its five-year strategy and its Winter 2013 season.  The headline announcement was that David Tennant will return to the RSC to play Richard II in their 2013 Winter Season. The news, though exciting to hear officially, had been circulating for some time.   Richard II will be a short six-week  run in Stratford from 10th October until 16th November.  The production then transfers to the Barbican from 9th December until 25th January 2014.

Looking at reactions to the news on Twitter and other Social Media, the casting news has been very well received and it signals a change of direction from the Michael Boyd years. There was some relish in the announcement that David Tennant would be returning to the RSC, rather than a sense of playing down his celebrity status and attempting to focus on ensemble as a core value.  Clearly there will be anxieties around managing the booking process, the returns’ queue and managing the back stage experience again with Tennant’s return to Stratford, but that does provide the RSC with media stories that they can feed out during the run to keep themselves in the public eye.  The shift from RST to Barbican will mean a move from the thrust stage to the proscenium arch.  There seems to be no desire to want to replicate your theatre in another building here.  In addition, the return to the Barbican reminds me of previous RSC seasons at the Barbican and that the promise of a London home might be closer.  However, I am not so fixated on the London home because I have to travel a distance to both Stratford and London, though I am aware this will be good news for others.

Another announcement today was that Shakespeare’s plays won’t go on in the Swan for the immediate future.  Instead the Swan will be the home for Shakespeare’s Contemporaries.  This sounds like an exciting plan, and I look forward to future Swan productions, but as King John and Richard III were such a success last year, I was hoping for one or two Shakespeare productions in the Swan.  Indeed, I had hoped that maybe Richard II would have gone into the Swan.  It would work so well in the small intimate space.  Though the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is supposed to be an intimate space, I sometimes feel dwarfed by the height of the stage, and its size, especially when it is over busy as in the Shipwreck season.

Furthermore, Greg Doran also announced that  as part of  his five-year strategy was to do the whole canon in five years. Will I finally get to see Two Noble Kinsmen at the RSC?  It’s the last of my complete works.

Further Information RSC Press release