love's labours lost and found
It's all backwards but it's written and posted. Be patient and read.
We are all well acquainted with Shakespeare’s play Love’s Labours Lost. Some scholars think that All’s Well That Ends Well is the missing Love’s Labours Won.
All’s Well is more popular than LLL, and it’s produced more frequently so no one really bothered about the relationship between the two plays. But the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Chichester Festival, Jonathan Church Productions and Mr. Duncan C Weldon (I don’t know who he is, either) have come up with a production of the two plays together and now have co-produced them with the Theatre Royal Haymarket Productions. These were the final two plays I saw when I was in London in January, and they were love-erly!!
The director Christopher Luscombe came up with the idea of pairing the plays like bookends around the Great War. Indeed, LLL ends with the King and his lords going off to war. Berowne, you may remember, is required by his ladylove to make hospital patients smile. The actors go off in uniform and he has a Red Cross badge on his arm, indicating hospital duty.
Shakespeare had set each play on a country estate, one in northern Spain, the other in Sicily, but both were like English manor houses. The designer, Simon Higlett, found (he says ‘stumbled on’) Charlecote Park, a National Trust property a few miles from Stratford. Legend has it that Shakespeare was caught poaching on the estate when he was a young man. A two-page wide photograph of the building appears in the souvenir Theatre Royal program with accompanying photographs of the gatehouse (where the French princess and her ladies stayed in Love’s Labours Lost); the rooftop where, hiding amid the chimneys in the production we saw, the King of Navarre and his lords hilariously revealed their attraction to the ladies; and the library, the main setting for the action in both plays.
The house itself was remodeled in the 19th century. An Edwardian family could have lived there during the war – though probably seconded for wartime purposes.
Remember that Downton Abbey became a rehab hospital during that war? Fiction, perhaps, but based on fact. Our tour group visited an estate not far from Highclere (aka Downton Abbey) that had been used as a naval office base during the war. So some hospital beds were not inappropriate in All’s Well and the situation of one of the characters made more sense, and played with more meaning than I have ever seen.
This was Dogberry, the constable - remember the night watch that discovered the chicanery of Don Pedro and his cohorts? Like many soldiers at the end of that and later wars, Dogberry suffered from PST, undiagnosed then and often ignored or mishandled today, he had a tic, not over-used, and his speech patterns, as written by Shakespeare, were touching. The actor, Nick Haverson, received an ovation when he left the scene.
As you know, I don’t give full reviews. I just tell you about things that appealed to me. I want to mention the actor who played Berowne in LLL and Benedick in All’s Well because a friend of mine was in London shortly after the plays opened (perhaps the reason for her reaction), and disliked Edward Bennett who played these roles so much that she walked out. Our camp director (one of the guides with Arts Discovery London who set us up and took us around) told us that Bennett was playing Laertes in a production of Hamlet a few years ago when Hamlet was taken ill and he as understudy went on, and stayed for a while because the illness was serious. Well, apparently he did very well, though he was not your usual Hamlet—appearing man, so well that he was catapulted into leading roles, hence Berowne and Benedick. He’s tall, which is nice, and sort of sexy, ditto. Needless to say, he speaks well and handles himself well. There is a slapstick scene involving a Christmas tree (this All’s Well takes place over the Xmas season) when Benedick is ‘eavesdropping’ on his friends, the conspirators, reporting on how much Beatrice loves him, where his ridiculous appearances (the director’s indulgence) are aided by the tree’s convenient hidey-holes. Bennett can handle the humour without losing his dignity as Benedick. In his photograph in the program he looks gleeful and capable of goofiness. Maybe that’s why my friend walked out.
I learn something new every time I see a Shakespeare play, some nuance by an actor, some insight of a director, some different pov, some interpretation - something- that brings it all fresh fresh fresh to my eyes and heart and mind.
I am so grateful.