IT IS one of the great Shakespearian mysteries. What happened to the Bard’s missing play, Love’s Labour’s Found?

It is mentioned in contemporary writings but the actual work has never been identified.

This pairing of two of Shakespeare’s comedies encourages the theory that the work was not lost but renamed – as Much Ado About Nothing.

Certainly as is obvious if the two productions that jointly draw to a close this year’s Chichester Festival are seen back to back, then the similarities are striking.

Both include a quick-witted sparring couple (Berowne and Rosaline in Love’s Labour’s, Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado), a gaggle of noble friends and associates who through mismatching and confusion also find love, an assortment of servants and fools.

Both plays are also set in a country estate and include masked encounters.

And both, even to modern audiences, are extremely funny.

Certainly plenty to work with for director Christopher Luscombe to recreate his successful London pairing of the two plays in the new setting of the Chichester main stage, which lends itself superbly to designer Simon Higlett’s sumptuous set based, in fact, on Charlcotte Park near Stratford Upon Avon.

As the action moves from inside the home to the grounds beyond, the set expands and contracts to stunning effect.

In a timely nod towards the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the plays are arranged to be set in the years immediately preceding and following that conflict.

Love’s Labour’s, then, is of innocence before the dark storm clouds gather, Much Ado telling the tale of the soldiers’ return.

But if the shadows of war to come or conflict past hang over the productions, there is no escaping the fact these are the works of a comic writing genius.

This week’s opening night audiences found it difficult at times to catch their breath through roars of laughter as the Bard’s 400-year-old romantic entanglements proved that there is little as comical as those who are in love.

Edward Bennet plays Berwone and Benedict – plenty of asides to the audience and not a little slapstick where required. Lisa Dillon plays his foil as Rosaline and Beatrice – all talons and claws until Cupid’s arrows strike. A superb partnership.

The greatest belly laughs, however, fall to Shakespeare’s clowns in these works: Costard the gardener in Love’s Labour’s, Dogberry the constable in Much Ado, played in both cases by the tremendous Nick Haverson.

This is a tour-de-force performance made all the greater by Haverson’s ability to underscore his tomfoolery with pity if not guilt from an audience so quick to mock his characters.

From a superb cast mention must also be made of John Hodgkinson who in the role of Don Armado (Love’s Labour’s) creates a truly memorable buffoon.

As the curtain to the 2016 season, the Shakespearean double billing is a fitting end to a memorable season.

The plays also mark the end of the 11-years of the pairing of artistic director Jonathan Church and executive director Alan Finch at Chichester.

Theirs is a stunning legacy and one that will be a hard double act of their own to follow.

Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing run until October 29.

Performances can be seen back-to-back on October 15, 16, 21 and 29.