4.5 stars
Much Ado About Nothing is currently considered by some Shakespearean aficionados as the companion piece to Love’s Labour’s Lost and had its theatrical debut in 1598, then titled Love’s Labour’s Won.
Over four hundred years later it still resonates and, like many of the Bard’s works, is full of villainy, treachery, heartache, love and humour. This splendid production by the Royal Shakespeare Company comes all the way from Stratford-upon-Avon and is being beamed across Australian cinema screens from April 4.

The performance is introduced by the BBC Arts broadcaster Suzy Klein and she interviews the director Christopher Luscombe, who reveals that he has moved the location from Sicily to the English countryside and set it in the autumn of 1918, when British soldiers were returning home after the Great War. The stage replicates the Elizabethan mansion Charlecote Park in Warwickshire and Simon Higlett’s production design is a treat. In shades of television’s Downton Abbey, the manor has been converted into a military hospital set up to care for the wounded returning from the trenches. We meet two men, the world-weary Benedick (Edward Bennett) and his friend Claudio (Tunji Kasim), who find themselves reacquainted with Beatrice (Michelle Terry) and Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst). Claudio and Hero fall madly in love without any complications, or so it seems, while Beatrice and Benedick constantly spar with one another. We are left to ponder what their relationship was like before WWI interrupted, as theirs seems to be a love/hate relationship.

As in many of Shakespeare’s works, Love’s Labour’s Won is a complex tale about love and deception. The plot thickens as Hero’s and Claudio’s marriage looms and the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick seems to disintegrate further. They are, although smitten, unable to admit it to themselves and get past their egos and their sense of independence. This quandary is very much part of the theme of this play for “the times they are a-changing” and the couple are a product of those times, wrestling with the traditional roles of men and women and the freedoms brought by the modern, post-war world. There’s an hilarious scene where Benedick is hiding in a giant Christmas tree and is deliberately set up to ‘overhear’ that Beatrice has the hots for him. Another, unrelated but equally hilarious scene is one between Constable Dogberry (Nick Haverson) and his watchmen, while attempting to take down a record of interview with the blackguards responsible for spoiling Caudio’s and Hero’s engagement. It’s a very clever piece of slapstick, as funny as anything by Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.

The performances are all terrific, especially Bennett’s, who you may recognise from the TV series Miranda, and Terry’s who, along with many other cast members, also appeared in Love’s Labour’s Lost. The pair is simply flawless. They are backed up by almost as impressive cast members Kasim (Nearly Famous) and Spencer-Longhurst (Leonardo) and the fabulous Haverson (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street). Mention must also be made of Nigel Hess’s wonderful musical score, plus Harry Waller, whose character Balthasar keeps us tapping our feet to his vocal performances at the piano, evocatively referencing the music of Noel Coward. Remember this is a world of house parties and masked balls, of celebration at the end of war. This Royal Shakespeare Company production is British theatre at its best and the second part of a trilogy of plays being performed by the company as an act of remembrance of World War I. Lest we forget.


Previewed at Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, on 25 March 2015


Edward Bennett
Michelle Terry
Flora Spencer-Longhurst
Tunji Kasim

Christopher Luscombe

William Shakespeare



184 minutes (including introduction, interviews and interval)

April 4, 2015