It wasn’t so much a question of unfinished business, says director Christopher Luscombe. More a question that they’d had a great time which they wanted to prolong.
But for a while it seemed it wasn’t to be as Christopher’s double-bill of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing moved towards its conclusion at Stratford.
“Nowadays there is no built-in mechanism for shows from Stratford to go to London. It was part of the contract in the olden days that things would go to London. I did several seasons as an actor, a year in Stratford, a year in London. That was the routine.”
But those days have gone, and Christopher and designer Simon Higlett feared they were saying goodbye to the productions… until Chichester Festival Theatre artistic director Jonathan Church turned up in the audience in the final week of the Stratford run.
“Jonathan saw it and rang me the next morning.”
The result is that the Shakespeare double bill will close the Church era at the Festival Theatre. The two plays will run in the main-house until October 29 before heading off to Manchester Opera House and then settling in at the Haymarket in London for three months – hugely to Christopher’s delight.
“It was just so enjoyable, and the lovely thing about doing them again is that it has all just confirmed my feeling, doing it all again, that the two plays are just such masterpieces. We are finding so many more things in them second-time around, things you think ‘Why didn’t we notice that!’ I am pleased to say that I am enjoying them even more the second time.”
Simon and Chris relocate Love’s Labour’s Lost to summer 1914. In order to dedicate themselves to a life of study, the king and his friends take an oath to avoid the company of women for three years.
No sooner have they made their idealistic pledge than the Princess of France and her ladies-in-waiting arrive, presenting the men with a severe test of their high-minded resolve – the characters unaware that the world around them is about to be utterly transformed by the war to end all wars.
Much Ado picks up in winter 1918. A group of soldiers return from the trenches. The world-weary Benedick and his friend Claudio find themselves reacquainted with Beatrice and Hero. As memories of conflict give way to a life of parties and masked balls, Claudio and Hero fall madly, deeply in love...
Coming back to the pieces – with around two-thirds of the original cast returning – Christopher admits you have to be pragmatic. It really can’t be just about recreating what they did last time.
“Obviously the basic foundations of the shows exist, the design, the music, the look and the feel of it, and Jonathan booked us because that is what he saw in Stratford, and we don’t want to go too far away from that.
“But particularly when you have got a new leading lady coming in, there is an obligation to rethink and reassess and let all the new people think that they are creating something new rather than just being slotted into something.
“And in a way, that has been great. You have got the confidence of a show that you know works well, but because you know the show, you have also got the confidence to experiment and think just how you might do some things just a little bit differently.
“You have got to get the balance between the two.”
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