Lost and found @TheRSC?

6th February 2015

Here’s a piece I wrote for the new issue of Picturehouse Recommends about the forthcoming cinema broadcasts of the RSC’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won on, respectively 11 February and 4 March. Picturehouse Recommends can be found at Picturehouse cinemas and is mailed to members. (And I freelance as Director, Screen Productions, for the RSC and produce the cinema broadcast.)

After the forthcoming Live from Stratford-upon-Avon cinema showings of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won in February and March, the Royal Shakespeare Company will be one-sixth of the way through their plan to screen all 36 of the Shakespeare plays included in the famous 1623 edition known as the First Folio.

Except that not one of the two hundred-plus surviving copies of that most precious of books features a play called Love’s Labour’s Won. Mentioned in a 1598 survey of English literature and listed by a bookseller in 1603, Love’s Labour’s Won is the most famous of the many ‘lost’ plays from the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre. No text with this title has ever been found, but RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran is among those tantalised by the idea of a play that might be the sequel to the sparkling youthful comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost.

When he was working on his own 2008 production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, Gregory Doran was struck, as other scholars have been, by the play’s parallels with Much Ado About Nothing. Love’s Labour’s Lost, which is the earlier of the comedies, concludes with a group of young men going off to the wars, while a triumphant army returns at the top of Much Ado About Nothing. Both comedies feature a feisty heroine – Rosaline in the former, Beatrice in the latter – besting in wit and word-play an ardent lover, even if in Much Ado About Nothing it takes Benedick a little time to recognise his passion. So might Much Ado About Nothing, which is not separately mentioned in either early source, have been an alternative title for Love’s Labour’s Won?

One of the great things about being the RSC’s Artistic Director is that you can act on a hunch like that, and so Gregory Doran invited director Christopher Luscombe to mount both plays with a single company to explore how plays work as a pair. And if the case for Much Ado About Nothing being Love’s Labour’s Won remains unproven, both critics and audiences have judged these two productions delicious, delightful and very, very funny.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is set in the high Edwardian summer of 1914 while the later play takes place in 1919. The sumptuous setting is an Elizabethan country house that looks a lot like Charlecote Park just a few miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. Both productions revel in a glorious score by Nigel Hess with tunes that Arthur Sullivan and Ivor Novello didn’t actually write but really ought to have done. And Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett play the sparring lovers in both productions, enhancing the echoes between the two. Only one of the plays, however, features a troupe of deranged dancing Cossacks.

And who knows? By the time the RSC’s First Folio cycle in cinemas comes to an end around 2020 some diligent scholar may just have discovered the manuscript of an all-new Love’s Labour’s Won. In which case we will be thrilled to invite you to the 37th Live from Stratford-upon-Avon presentation.

Photograph of Love’s Labour’s Lost by Manuel Harlan, courtesy RSC.

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