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

What happened to the RSC's long ensemble?

The RSC long ensemble gala in the Swan 2011. The gala was to raise funds for James Gale and his family.

Updated 6th January 2013. Thanks to updates from RSC long ensemble audience members.

After I saw Debbie Korley and Dharmesh Patel in the RSC’s young people’s King Lear at the Theatre Royal in York recently, I started to wonder what the rest of the RSC’s long ensemble were dong now. I had seen some of long ensemble working in the theatre over the past year, and heard about other things they’d done since the long ensemble project ended after a residency New York in the Summer of 2011. The long ensemble was made up of 44 actors and started in Stratford in the Spring of 2009 with As You Like It (dir by Michael Boyd) and The Winter’s Tale (dir by David Farr). These two plays were joined in the Summer of 2011 by Lucy Bailey’s Julius Caesar. For me the success of the long ensemble came the year after with Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet and David Farr’s King Lear. Both plays played with time and space and for me the plays worked well with the transition from the Courtyard theatre to the new RST (via Newcastle and the Roundhouse). It was the long ensemble that opened the new RST and brought the RSC home – so to speak. The partnership between Jonjo O’Neill and Sam Troughton, as Mercutio and Romeo, brought an energy to the project, but also demonstrated how a partnership built up over a period of time could work so well.

I am sure that it was hoped that the actors and directors would move on to other things, and that some would return to the RSC.

There’s been a few long ensemble reunions in 2012. The first was the Duchess of Malfi reuniting Adam Burton and Tunji Kasim at the Old Vic. Another reunion was down the road from the Old Vic, at the Young Vic, where Sam Troughton, Mariah Gale and Gruffudd Glyn could be seen in Three Sisters. As well as Three Sisters it seems that Sam Troughton has been very busy since he left the long ensemble. He was in A Streetcar Named Desire in Liverpool, and Love, Love, Love at the Royal Court, as well as The Town on television. Mariah Gale is currently in Gruesome Playground Injuries at the Gate Theatre.

Later in the year, at the Old Vic, after being in Children’s Children at the Almeida, Darrell D’Silva was in the very successful Hedda Gabler. Forbes Masson will be playing Banquo alongside James McAvoy’s Macbeth Westminster studios. was in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, plating Mr Tumnus, for Threesixty Theatre in Kensington Gardens. The production was directed by long ensemble director Rupert Goold. He also starred in the Belgrade Theatres Crackers. There were also glimpses of Forbes supporting Melanie Masson’s on ITV’s X Factor.

The RSC women seemed to have done well since the long ensemble project ended and I enjoyed, Noma Dumezweni, Katy Stephens and Mariah Gale’s audio performances as the three witches from Macbeth in the Staging Shakespeare exhibition at the British Museum. Noma Dumezweni was also in Bola Agbaje’s play, Belong, at the Royal Court in the Spring of 2012 and will be in The Feast at the young Vic from February. I managed to see Katy Stephens, who was excellent in Calixto Bieito’s Forests, but missed her playing Laura in The Father at the Belgrade theatre in Coventry. Katy is currently playing the fairy in the Belgrade Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty. Kirsty Woodward was fantastic in Kneehigh’s Steptoe and Son, which I saw at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and at the start of 2012, I saw her in The Way of the World Sheffield Crucible.

Kathryn Hunter joined the long ensemble in the second year of the project, and made a quick exit in the middle of the Roundhouse season. She went on to revive her as Peter the Red Ape in Kafka’s Monkey, which I thought was a stunning piece of physical theatre and then returned to the RSC in A Tender Thing this autumn.

One thing that has been surprising is how few of the long ensemble returned to Stratford after the long ensemble project finished. Though Jonjo O’Neill returned to the RSC in a very successful Richard III in the summer of 2012, it has taken awhile for a group of actors to return to the RSC to work together. Indeed, it has taken over a year for four members of the long ensemble to work together again in the Swan in Stratford. Adam Burton, Paul Hamilton, Patrick Romer, and James Tucker are now back in Stratford performing in the long ensemble in the Swan and Ansu Kabia is playing Nim in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Greg Hicks will return to the RSC in 2013 to play Claudius in Hamlet. Oliver Ryan is another member of the long ensemble to return to Stratford for the 1013 Summer season, and long ensemble director, David Farr, will be directing Hamlet.

Sadly Peter Shorey and James Gale have passed away.

And what happened to the other long ensemble directors? After directing a very good Taming of the Shrew for the RSC Winter season 2012, Lucy Bailey returns to the RSC for the Winter 2013 to direct The Winter’s Tale. Greg Doran,who directed the long ensemble interlude, Morte D’Arthur, took over the RSC as Artistic Director in September 2012 and I am now awaiting the announcement of his first season. He is currently directing The Orphan of Zhao in the Swan.

And the Artistic director, Michael Boyd what’s he doing now? Well, he left the RSC in September 2012, but his final production as a director at the RSC, Boris Godunov is now in the Swan.

I think some people felt that the long ensemble was too large to work well, and that many of the actors didn’t really get chance to use to really shine. However, the long ensemble did give some actors a chance to play a range of parts. Sam Troughton showed he could play both the lead and bit parts with great skill. Indeed, he produced was exceptional as a Lord in The Winter’s Tale and entertaining as an energetic and angry Romeo in Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s no surprise to see that Sam Troughton has gone on to play a range of parts since leaving the RSC, and his Mercutio, Jonjo O’Neill, has also shown his range and he is getting great reviews at the National Theatre in The Effect,

Other actors, who showed some promise in the long ensemble do not seem to have done other things. For example, Dyfan Dwyfor played a much more emotional Romeo than Troughton, when I saw him understudy Troughton early in the Straford run. I have not seen that Dwyfor has been in the theatre, since leaving the RSC and even the long ensemble has not changed the transient nature of most actors’ lives. I am hoping that Debbie Korley and Dharmesh Patel will go on to do more than the Young People’s Shakespeare. Both have demonstrated through this vehicle that they can do more than waiting women and bit parts and I look forward to seeing them in other things in the future.

I will have missed many long ensemble appearances, so please let me know of any others that are not here, or about anything you’ve seen with an actor from the long ensemble in it.

Update 10th March 2013

I have recently see Noma Dumezweni in Feast at the Young Vic theatre and Sam Troughton in Bull at Sheffield Crucible. Katy Stephens and David Rubin are also returning to Stratford over the Summer to work in the Swan.


My Long ensemble blogs

The Winter’s Tale and As You Like It

As You Like It, Newcastle 2009

Katy Stephens’ Hair

Julius Caesar

The RSC ensemble debate

King Lear

Romeo and Juliet

RSC, South Bank Show

The RSC Comes Home

Romeo and Juliet again

Antony and Cleopatra part 1

Antony and Cleopatra part 2

RSC Revealed

New Writing at the Hampstead Theatre

Full details about the long ensemble project can be found here.

Little Eagles, Silence, and American Trade (Hampstead Theatre)

I decided to go to the three new plays at the Hampstead Theatre, as part of  the RSC long ensemble project.  To do this required some complex travel arrangements and a hit on my budget. I’d been watching this long ensemble for three years, and really wanted to see their final performances together on British soil before the project finished. After that very special last matinée/evening performances of King Lear and Romeo and Juliet in April, there was just one last chance to see the long ensemble, and I wanted to make sure I was there.

I did enjoy the actors’ performances, and it was good seeing them in the different character roles, especially Debbie Korley who was really funny as Girl Wonder, and Kirsty Woodward in American Trade. I felt the new plays gave the actors the opportunity to show their range, and have a go at different things. I thought Noma Dumezweni and Darrell D’Silva gave fantastic performances in Little Eagles and I thought Katy Stephens, Christine  Entwistle, Jonjo O’Neil were also superb in Silence. However, I felt that the actors in general didn’t have enough in the plays to work with to demonstrate their outstanding skills. It is not an exaggeration to say that Jonjo O’Neill has performed the best Mercutio I’ve ever seen, and Katy Stephens’s Goneril and then her Cleopatra are highly developed nuanced performances. Noma Dumezweni’s nurse and Paulina were wonderful interpretations and Greg Hicks’ Lear took me on his emotional journey every time I saw it. This new writing just didn’t reach those depths in the same way. It’s not a draw just to see an actor in a thong, especially the actor who was so excellent as Gloucester. For me, when we get down to that it becomes slightly voyeuristic in an odd uncomfortable way and watching an actor of Freshwater’s talent playing such a stereotypical role was disappointing, even though he did a good job at it.  It was all a little bit of an anti climax.

I liked the narrative around Little Eagles, that was the thing that kept me enthralled and the actors’ performances.  However, the play itself was a little wordy and slightly clichéd at times. In comparison Silence was a devised piece exploring sound.  Three narratives were intertwined.  I liked the way that the whole stage was used and that the sense of sage and backstage were broken down. I did find that I cared about the characters and what happened to them. In American Trade, I found I didn’t really care what happened about the characters. I think the point was that they were types, and every type that there was crammed in, which at times made it just too much.  I thought the play was funny and it was fun. I did laugh a lot.

I think I enjoyed the three new plays at the Hampstead Theatre, as I might enjoy an evening out with friends.  They were entertaining and it was always a fun and interesting evening/afternoon out. The plays themselves were just not exceptional. What I didn’t feel was the same sense of excitement afterwards as I did watching the long ensemble in the six Shakespeare plays. I wasn’t left with that sense of wanting to see a production again in the way that makes trekking round the country to see the long ensemble really worth it.  However,  I didn’t go and expect Shakespeare, just some really thought-provoking and interesting new writing, that warranted the RSC to bring it alive.

I am glad that I went to see these plays. It was that one last time to see the long ensemble. I wish the long ensemble luck in New York, and thinking about it makes me want to see Romeo and Juliet again for – one more time.

Previews and Reviews

RSC Revealed (The Swan, 27th March 2011)

The vision behind the RSC Long Ensemble was for a group of actors to work together for a sustained period of time to produce work. It seemed fitting then, at the end of the Stratford run and two and half years together the long ensemble got together and put on a Gala in the newly opened Swan Theatre. The event was to support the needs of long ensemble member James Gale and it was a bringing tougher of the company in one place.  The event was organised by company members Kelly Hunter and Hannah Young.

This was a special event, but it was particularly relevant in that it shared a moment with a regular RSC audience in a way that is often spoken about in moving to the thrust stage, but only partially happens  in the Shakespearean productions. The production acknowledged an audience that has followed the work over the two and half years and so there were a lot of in jokes and even mentions of regular audience members.

The Gala started in the foyer with actors collecting money and characters taking on their character roles such as Brian Doherty as Autolycus selling souvenirs from the RSC shop and Sophie Russell as the tap dancing nun from The Comedy of Errors. As the audience entered the Swan, Peter Peverley played his guitar and sang some songs including The Jam’s Town Called Malice. Our compare  for the evening was Eunice the usher who opens Romeo and Juliet, but as the evening progressed, Eunice abandoned parts of her costume to reveal Noma Dumezweni the wonderful RSC actress. At times Noma had a little helper (her daughter), who was not phased at all by being on stage.

Katy Stephens ran the auction of promises and handing out punishments to her son if the auction did not raise enough each time. There were some references to Gloucester’s blinding, but it backfired on Katy in the end as she ended up with a foam pie in her face (and we didn’t see that coming). Promises ranged from dinner for two at the Dirty Duck, and a family pass to Warwick Castle to helping the stage management team put on a production of King Lear and a chance to row Juliet (Mariah Gale) down the river.

The evening was a mixture of comedy and song. There was Christine Entwhistle’s very funny and very rude hunting routine and Richard Katz’s failing magician routine.  We saw characters as we’d never seen them before such as the knights from Morte D’Arthur in a very funny rendition of Lily White and Adam Burton’s hilarious Klauzz with Cleopatra’s attendants Iras (Samantha Young) and Charmian (Hannah Young) performing a German electro pop routine. Jonjo O’Neill performed Mr Bo Jangles and Simone Saunders sang Destiny. There were other appearances from ensemble members including Greg Hicks, Geoffrey Freshwater, Sandy Neilson, Patrick Romer, Sophie Russell and many more.

Gruffudd Glyn’s one man band was a lovely overview of life in the ensemble with some jokes that made sense to anyone following the long ensemble. The evening finished with the long ensemble on stage together.

IMG 0417

Further Information


Antony and Cleopatra. Part 2 (Theatre Royal Newcastle, 15th October 2010)

On the 15th October matinée, Katy Stephens (text in hand) took on the role of Cleopatra in the RSC Antony and Cleopatra when Kathryn Hunter ‘was indisposed’.  Though for most of the scenes Katy Stephens held the book in her hand, she only looked at the script now and again to remind herself of  odd lines. I felt that Katy Stephens’ portrayal of  Cleopatra was much more emotional than Kathryn Hunter’s and she didn’t play the comedy as much.  On Antony’s death there were tears in her eyes.  At times Katy Stephens was a little uncomfortable in the way she stood.  However, watching her demonstrated that two different approaches to a character can work within the same production.  I felt there was certainly a lot of chemistry between Stephen’s Cleopatra and Darrell D’Silva’s Antony.

The shuffle that inevitably comes from an understudy taking on a key role resulted in some real treats.  My favourite was Greg Hicks taking on the role of the messenger Thidias. It was a lovely performance, and Hicks seemed to revel in the part, flirting with Cleopatra and taking notes in Rome with great relish.  Tunji Kasim  (normally Mardian) gave a very sound performance as Eros and I felt that this was better casting than the eunuch and even Edmund.

There were a couple of moments that didn’t seem to go to plan.  At one point Alexas was not on stage when he was asked to find out information from the messenger and the gun did not go off when Cleopatra shot at the messenger.  Maybe the safety catch was still on or because Katy Stephens hadn’t practised that much they didn’t want to take the risk.

When an understudy takes on a role, there is a bit of observing the blocking and some mimicking of the way lines are said by the original actor.  On the other hand, there is also a sense of the actor trying to bring their interpretation to the role.  The RSC policy is for the ensemble to understudy other parts. It’s enormous undertaking to understudy Cleopatra as well as play Regan and Rosalind.  In the past two years I have seen Ed Bennett’s Hamlet, Mariah Gale’s Rosalind, and Dyfan Dwyfor’s Romeo. I have also seen the understudy performance of Twelfth Night.  What the understudy does is give a very different perspective of a role in a production.  For example, I thought that Dyfan Dwyfor’s Romeo was much measured and quieter than Sam Troughton’s.  I was really pleased to see Katy Stephens play Cleopatra and in future she may get the opportunity to really make the part her own.

My review of the production with Kathryn Hunter