Hugh Bonneville, star of Downton Abbey, was in the third row at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for this triumphant press night and seemed to enjoy the event enormously. As did we all. I can't recall so many curtain-calls at Stratford for a long time.
Director Christopher Luscombe, fresh from Monty Python's Spamalot, has taken two of Shakespeare's comedies and set them at the start and finish of the First World War. You can enjoy them separately or, on certain dates, in a five-hour double bill.
If the title of the second play, Love's Labour's Won, doesn't ring a bell, it's because it is better known as Much Ado About Nothing. The RSC takes the view that Much Ado is actually Shakespeare's "missing" sequel to Love's Labour's Lost.
The romantic leads in both plays, sparking and snapping at each other, are Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett and you can't fault them.
But it's the secondary characters who delight – notably Nick Haverson as Dogberry, the constable who gets long words wrong, and David Horovitch as Holofernes, the pedantic schoolteacher, delivering a master class in how to play an old codger.
The RST set, a replica of nearby Charlecote House, is a joy to behold and the vast, deep stage is used to great effect with scenes sliding and rising. The music by Nigel Hess is perfectly pitched for the Great War period.
But this, above all, is a director's event . Luscombe has gone through every line of both plays looking for new comic turns. So we have a Brideshead-style teddy bear threatened with a drop from a great height, a billiard game emerging from the pit and a riotous scene in an overcrowded police station.
These painstakingly reworked comedies are pure delight. The irony is that at least half of the laughs come from the mind of Christopher Luscombe, not William Shakespeare. Even so, I bet the Bard would approve.
The plays are at Stratford until March 14.
by Peter Rhodes