It seems a little out of context that a blog about textiles should mention two of Shakespeare’s comedies but I’ve just returned from Chichester where I saw Love’s Labours Lost and Much Ado About Nothing performed by a superb cast from the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The reason for quoting the plays here is because, in this production, they are set at a time which bookends the First World War and although we are now Following a Thread, I couldn’t help but be transported back a couple of years when all my energies were focused on work about that conflict.
Loves Labours Lost was written in 1595, Much Ado just four years later, and there is no evidence that Shakespeare marked them out as a pair. The first play isn’t performed very often because the use of some very Elizabethan wordplay makes some of the text particularly hard to understand. However, four young men take an oath to foreswear the company of women, to eat frugally and to spend their time studying. Needless to say, this is impossible for them and many silly incidents take place before the end of the play when the women dispatch the men for a year and a day to prove the seriousness of their love. But, the period is Edwardian and the atmosphere light hearted until it is obvious that they are off to war – a war to end all wars.
Much Ado About Nothing opens in the same stately home, now set with hospital beds, and the return of the young soldiers. The men now appear more sober and aware of their responsibilities and the whole courtship of Beatrice and Benedict unfolds with greater emotional maturity.
What struck me most about these productions was first how the atmosphere of Loves Labours Lost evokes the hot summer of 1913 when the British were supremely content with the status quo and how the atmosphere changes as the men go off to fight. Then secondly, as Much Ado begins, the characters return in a more complex form, portraying greater sophistication in their understanding of life and love.
I highly recommend these productions, both full of fun, and music, which are due at the Haymarket Theatre for the winter season. Even if Shakespeare isn’t really your thing, the productions highlighted once more the changing landscape of the early twentieth century which we all highlighted in Between the Lines.