Much Ado About Something as Shakespeare’s legendary lost play Love’s Labour’s Won surfaces in Stratford – or does it?

Love’s Labour’s Won is famously listed as one of Shakespeare’s ‘lost plays’. However, some academics believe it is in fact not lost but is actually an alternate name for another play, in the way that Twelfth Night is also called What You Will. The RSC’s Artistic Director Gregory Doran appears to believe this theory and goes one further to suggest that the much-beloved Much Ado About Nothing is in fact the missing play. Re-designating Much Ado as Love’s Labour’s Won and pairing it with Shakespeare’s other screwball rom-com Love’s Labour’s Lost for the first time forms the basis of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s 2014 winter season.

Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett as Beatrice and Benedick.

Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett as Beatrice and Benedick.


Love’s Labour’s Won
 sees Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry both making their return to the RSC to play the bickering couple of Benedick and Beatrice, with Edward Bennett returning for the first time since stepping into David Tennant’s shoes to play Hamlet during the London run in 2008.

Director Christopher Luscombe has set the play in 1918 as soldiers return from World War I and used local Tudor house Charlecote Park as his setting. Set designer Simon Higlett had the task of recreating this historical home on stage and he has done a marvellous job doing so. It looks and feels as if you are stepping into an episode of Downton Abbey with the luxious main set featuring a grand piano and a beautifully decorated large Christmas tree.

The production’s handsome Downton Abbey-esque set.

The production’s handsome Downton Abbey-esque set.

Edward Bennett plays Benedick with great wit and comedic timing. In particular the ‘gulling’ scene, where he overhears about Beatrice’s love for him, is full of laughs as he is humiliated by his peers. A personal highlight sees Benedick being semi-electrocuted inside the Christmas tree.

Michelle Terry is more than a match as Beatrice. Just as sharp-tongued and funny as Benedick she stands as a perfect match for Bennett’s returned war hero. Terry holds her own as the feisty and independent heroine. When the couple finally unite the romance pours out of them onstage and they are without a doubt the true and unpredictable love story of the play.

Claudio (Tunji Kasim) and Benedick.

Claudio (Tunji Kasim) and Benedick.

A notable mention should go to Sam Alexander as the villainous Don John. He appears on crutches, having been injured in the war, which helps his bitterness and hatred shine through.

The play raised many laughs from the audience and none more so than the scene of Dogberry and Verges interrogating Borachio and his co-conspirators regarding their roles in the thwarted marriage of Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) and Claudio (Tunji Kasim). The hectic confusion is played out perfectly on stage, helped along by the brilliant idea to stage it all within a small portion of the set.

The marriage of Claudio and Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst).

The marriage of Claudio and Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst).


Much Ado About Nothing
– I mean Love’s Labour’s Won – is well-staged, well-acted and a perfect companion for the Love’s Labour’s Lost. It runs until 14 March 2015.

Go here to buy tickets for Love’s labour’s Won.

What did the UK media make of Maxine Peake’s Manchester Hamlet? Shakespeare Magazine reviews the reviews…

The idea to take on the iconic role of Hamlet, Maxine Peake told Creative Tourist, came after she worked with Royal Exchange Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom on a 2012 production of Miss Julie. “We’ve got this opportunity now where there’s no boundaries,” she suggested, “so we’ve got to challenge ourselves, perhaps even to the point where we overstretch ourselves.”
As Creative Tourist puts it, Peake was “adamant that this part has got absolutely nothing to do with gender-swapping for shock’s sake.” But it must have been clear from the start that gender (or ‘gender-bending’ as the Telegraph helpfully put it) would be the principal lens through which many critics and punters would experience this production.
Hamlet 7 credit Jonathan Keenan
Several reviewers pointed out this was the first time Hamlet has been played by a woman in a high-profile production since Frances de la Tour in 1979. Susannah Clapp (Observer/Guardian) gave as good a summary as can be found of the rich theatrical story Peake’s performance belongs to: ‘There is a long, strong tradition of women performing the role,” she writes. “Sarah Siddons took it on in Manchester in 1777. Victorian actresses, amateur and professional, played the part regularly. Sarah Bernhardt, the first actress to be filmed in the part, declared it should always be performed by a woman.”

Frankcom told Creative Tourist that “Prescribed notions of gender – what is female, what is male – are all in flux at the moment … with our Hamlet, Maxine’s Hamlet, she’s creating a character that’s as much male and as much female.”
Hamlet 9 credit Jonathan Keenan
However, Peake’s Hamlet was for many reviewers very much a prince, rather than the intended royal-human-in-flux. To Polly Gianniba describes it was “a cross between a warrior angel (one of the beautiful lovelorn angels Philip Pullman writes) and the Little Prince.” Michael Billington refers to Peake’s Hamlet as ‘he’. Additionally, Polonius – or Polonia – was played by, and as, a woman (Gillian Bevan). For the Telegraph, this was confusing: “If Hamlet remains, technically, male in this reading – why make these added distinctions?” And one was left wondering whether The Independent reviewer joined the dots of his own thinking when he wrote “We are not used to seeing a woman play Hamlet. The result here is a powerful and yet curiously domestic production.” The suggestion seeming to be that ‘woman’ equals ‘domestic’. Although perhaps this ‘domestic’ sense came from the decision to largely excise the Fortinbras plot, the thread that brings the wider political world into the play’s family drama.
Hamlet 10 credit Jonathan Keenan
Fortinbras’s removal was Billington’s “main reservation” about the production, whilst Gianniba enjoyed the production enough that “anything left out feels inconsequential.” When a production minimises Fortinbras, as has often been done before, it usually indicates a focus on personal, rather than geo- politics.

Hamlet, more than many plays, is an intensely ‘personal’ experience. The character invites the audience’s identification through soliloquy and the expression of existential crisis. Having catalogued the staging (in-the-round), costumes (Chairman Mao suit, Bowie haircut for Hamlet, according to the Manchester Evening News and others) and expressed an opinion about the verse speaking – any reviewer in need of a point-of-view must finally fall back upon his or her own inner Hamlet and see how the new suit fits.
Hamlet 6 credit Jonathan Keenan
On these traditional terms, Peake pleased most reviewers. But it’s interesting to wonder who might be “shocked”, as Peake put it, by seeing a woman playing Hamlet in 2014. To an extent, coverage of this production is several degrees removed from the intense, often violent commentary on gender in this year of Beyoncé as ‘FEMINIST’, GamerGate, and the mixture of celebration and death threats that greets any new female re-imagining of Marvel superfolk. Nonetheless, perhaps that is this Hamlet’s wider, personal-political context. Susannah Clapp suggests that, with this and previous productions, “Frankcom is in effect creating England’s first mainstream feminist theatre.” And if a woman playing Hamlet still has the power to shock, or even confuse, an audience in 2014, then the political, like old Hamlet’s wronged ghost in the play, may have been this production’s sustaining energy.

Photography by Jonathan Keenan

Go here for more on Hamlet at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ‘Free Will’ program hands out free tickets to Shakespeare fans in Washington DC

The Tempest
Washington DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company has announced an expansion of its ‘Free For All’ program. The new ‘Free Will’ program will see the company give away 1,000 tickets to each of the season’s productions – which averages at an impressively generous 150-200 tickets a week.

Free For all was launched back in the summer of 1991, with The Merry Wives of Windsor performed under the stars for no charge. Over the years a staggering 500,000 audience members have been served with free Shakespeare.

“Our goal has been to offer free Shakespeare productions to as wide of an audience as possible,” says Artistic Director Michael Khan, “and to make it accessible to diverse audiences. People who have never been to the theatre, people who are unable to pay for tickets, young people, students, people on fixed incomes.”

Every Monday at noon tickets are released for the coming week’s performances. Tickets can be claimed at the box office, through the website, or by calling the box office at 202-547-1122.

(Insider tip: calling the box office seems to be best way to claim tickets, as the high number of people attempting to claim tickets overwhelms the website!)

STC’s production of The Tempest (pictured) has recently opened, while As You Like It has just closed. Still to come are the season’s productions of The Metromaniacs, the Macbeth-inspired Dunsinane, Man of La Mancha, and Tartuffe.

Patrons may claim up to 4 tickets per week, but are welcome to take advantage of Free Will more than once.

Check out the Free Will website here.
Check out the Free for All website here.

Gaze in wonder at visionary poet and artist William Blake’s spellbinding paintings inspired by the works of William Shakespeare

This week we’ve been celebrating the 28 November birthday of William Blake (1757-1827). Although perhaps best known for his poems and for writing the words to the hymn ‘Jerusalem’, Blake was also a visionary painter, one whose was often Shakespeare-inspired.
Here is Blake’s ‘Pity’ (1795), inspired by the evocative but mysterious line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “And pity, like a naked new-born babe, Striding the blast…”
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Blake also illustrated more conventional scenes from Shakespeare – although often with a supernatural dimension. Here’s his version of Hamlet encountering his father’s Ghost (1806).
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Brutus and the ghost of Julius Caesar is another haunting Shakespearean scene from Blake (1806).
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And here we have Richard III on the night before the Battle of Bosworth, assailed by the ghosts of his victims (circa 1806).
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Blake also painted Oberon, Titania, Puck and the other fairies from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in this beautiful and dreamlike tableau from 1786.
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And Blake even turned his supremely versatile hand to a portrait of Shakespeare himself (circa 1800).
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William Blake was a poet, painter, printer, visionary, mystic – and Shakespearean. Portrait by Thomas Phillips (1807).
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Thank you to Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust Education for showing us the link between two great English literary Williams – William Blake and William Shakespeare.

Find out about the William Blake Exhibition at the Ashmolean, Oxford.
Find out about the William Blake Exhibition at Tate Britain.
Fnd out about Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust Education.