Edward Bennett appears as Berowne in Love's Labour's Lost and Benedick in Love's Labour's Won (Much Ado About Nothing). These two comedies are played back to back featuring the same society before and after the First World War. They have been very well-received and brought people to the theatre who haven't been before.

Edward Bennett leaning out of a tower in a white suit in Love's Labour's Lost
Edward Bennett as Berowne in Love's Labour's Lost
Photo by Manuel Harlan © RSC – Image Licensing

'I could happily spend the rest of my life here, doing Shakespeare,' Ed tells me. But he knows that you can only take what you are given. So far he has been very lucky in maintaining a successful career in classical theatre.

A local boy-he comes from Honeybourne and attended Chipping Camden school.  - It was not until he was 14 that he came to the RSC on a school trip to see The Cherry Orchard in the Swan Theatre, sitting close enough to see David Troughton's spit fly! It was amazing, he says, to understand a play that he didn't know and to enjoy it. The best way for youngsters to access Shakespeare is to see it in performance done by good actors, he believes.

He took both English literature and theatre studies as exam subjects. He remembers being 'up and doing' on The Tempest at A Level but has virtually no memory of school Shakespeare in English lessons.

He studied history and politics at Cardiff University where he involved himself in drama productions and then went to RADA.

His early professional work allowed him to study Shakespearean actors of experience and having seen the plays performed he would turn to the text to consider his own slant on the characters. It is still his preferred method: to experience the play in performance before looking at the text.

Having played Roderigo in Othello, in 2007 he found himself, only five years after leaving RADA, with Gregory Doran at the RSC who directed him as Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Navarre in Love's Labour's Lost and Laertes in Hamlet. Ed was also the understudy for Hamlet - David Tennant's Hamlet.

Playing the Dane

To play Hamlet must be every classical actor's dream but when you are just 29, have only four hours' notice and the audience is awaiting Dr Who, you might think it a poisoned chalice passed to you. Ed found himself having to take over the role when after the London transfer David Tennant sustained a spinal injury.

Gregory Doran prefaced the show by explaining the situation to the audience and Edward went on.

'You do it to tell the story of Hamlet and to support all the other actors who are telling the story', he says. He received a standing ovation at the end of that performance and took the role from 8 December - 2 January. The critic, Michael Billington, observed that he was no sitting Tennant but had made the role his own. But with humility he admits that it was always David's role, he the caretaker.

Love's Labour's Lost and Won

So Love's Labour's Lost, a little-performed play, is not new to him but it is seen through a different prism arising from time and location.

Gregory Doran's production was beautifully Arcadian, almost like a painting. Ed describes it as a generic wonderland that suited Gregory's imagination.

The play now is more compressed, more controlled, he says, very much rooted in Edwardian society in a specific country house. Last time he played Navarre, now he is Berowne.

Berowne lives in a world of leisure in which characters amuse themselves by playing elaborate word games. He and his three friends are immature boys while the four girls they meet are sophisticated women.

Ed says that in some ways he has more to play with in the character of Berowne whereas with Benedick, because of compression, there are three clear-cut presentations: the confirmed bachelor, the gulled friend and the lover.

In the process of making an entertaining, coherent whole he has lost lines. Nevertheless it is a great part and the rapid split- second timing of the exchanges between Beatrice and himself a delight to watch.

I remark on his generosity to Beatrice to whom he allows full rein. Yes, he says, that is because Benedick loves her, wants to watch her, is fascinated by her. It is she who causes him to mature.

Viv Graver

Viv Graver is a retired teacher, who taught Shakespeare for more than 30 years in the north of England. Her present interest is introducing Shakespeare into primary schools. Viv's blog is a series of interviews with RSC cast and creatives about their path to Shakespeare and how they first came to it, at school and elsewhere.

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