In 2014 we paired Love's Labour's Lost with Love's Labour's Won (Much Ado About Nothing) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

The action took place either side of World War One and both productions featured the same company of actors and shared a set based on Charlecote Park, the National Trust stately home near Stratford-upon-Avon.

Love_s_Labour_s_Lost_2014_production_photos_Photo_by_Manuel_Harlan_c_RSC_LOV-253-3560450035-O_Adj
The Edwardian setting for Love's Labour's Lost, 2014, directed by Christopher Luscombe
© RSC – Image Licensing

The director Christopher Luscombe had an earlier connection with the play, having been a memorable 'Moth' in Ian Judge's 1993 production of Love's Labour's Lost.

The production was broadcast live into cinemas worldwide in Spring 2015 and also streamed into schools.

Here we give you glimpses behind the scenes of staging a play at the RSC. As well as previously unseen photos of the production in process, you can view video interviews with the director and designer and watch clips from the show itself.

 

A Labour of Love

Christopher Luscombe talks about directing two plays, choosing the Edwardian setting, and having a second chance at two famously tricky comic roles.

Director Christopher Luscombe
Director Christopher Luscombe
© RSC – Image Licensing

Everything about this job has been unusual. For a start, I'm directing not one but two plays. One of them is familiar enough (Love's Labour's Lost) but the other appears, at first sight, to be a Shakespearean world première: RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran wanted to commemorate the Great War, and suggested that I locate the plays either side of it. Immediately this seemed like a good fit.

 The idyllic, pastoral world of Love's Labour's Lost, with tragedy waiting in the wings, seems particularly well suited to the fragile beauty of the last Edwardian summer.

 Much Ado About Nothing (or Love's Labour's Won) takes place in the aftermath of war, and the erratic behaviour of many of the characters chimes neatly with the fractured society that emerged after the Armistice of 1918.

 Working with the designer, Simon Higlett, I decided to place both plays on the same country estate. For inspiration we chose a stately home that Shakespeare himself would have known – Charlecote Park, close to Stratford, and where he was (allegedly) arrested for poaching as a young man.

The actors were able to visit the house and start to conjure up the imagined community of Edwardian Warwickshire. For protocol expertise, we turned to Alastair Bruce, Equerry to the Earl of Wessex, and historical advisor on Downton Abbey and The King's Speech. His sessions with the company were a revelation.

A red brick arch on well maintained lawns, with cubic bushes on the lawns
The gatehouse at Charlecote Park in Warwickshire
Photo by Lucy Barriball © RSC – Image Licensing

Tackling the clowns

I came to these plays with a certain amount of baggage, having acted in them both for the RSC in the 90s. I've tried hard not to bang on about this in rehearsal and inhibit the truly excellent actors (Peter McGovern and Nick Haverson) who are now tackling 'my' roles (Moth and Dogberry), but it has been very handy to know how the scenes play with an audience.

 Working on these two masterpieces again – this time from the director's chair – has given me a second chance to have a crack at two notoriously difficult 'clowns'.

 One of the director's tasks is to help the actors free the comedy from the page, and to make lines funny when they often seem to depend on footnotes to be fully comprehensible. But one of the great discoveries of working on any Shakespeare play, especially with a company of outstanding comedians, is that the Bard, rather like Falstaff, is not only witty in himself, but 'the cause that wit is in other men'.

 The characters in both works are often quite broadly comic, but they are all rooted in psychological truth. The key to unlocking the comedy, I think, is to treat them as real people.

 I always felt that with Dogberry and Moth the comedy sprang from Shakespeare's observational skills as much as from the brilliance of the language.

Nick Haverson as Dogberry in Love's Labour's Won (Much Ado About Nothing) 2014
Nick Haverson as Dogberry in Love's Labour's Won (Much Ado About Nothing) 2014
Photo by Manuel Harlan © RSC – Image Licensing

Dogberry is memorable for his linguistic slips, and liberal use of malapropisms (we should probably call them Dogberryisms - he anticipated Mrs Malaprop by nearly 200 years).

 But this only really becomes genuinely amusing when we start to think about why he has such a tenuous hold on words.

Painfully insecure, promoted beyond his capabilities and struggling hard to justify his status ('I am an officer; and, which is more, a householder…'), and possibly, in our setting, suffering from shell shock, he becomes a heartbreakingly fallible police constable.

A man in a black suit and tie sitting on a short chair
Peter McGovern as Moth in Love's Labour's Lost 2014
© RSC – Image Licensing

Moth may seem, initially, to be an infuriatingly precocious 'page', but in a country house setting it's easy to see him as a self-taught hall boy, ransacking the library for classical references and striking up an unlikely friendship with an eccentric houseguest, the bohemian Don Armado.

 As with so many relationships in Shakespeare, these two only really come alive when the class boundaries are distinct – readily delineated in an Edwardian household.

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