Known for its inordinate verbosity, wit and word play, Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost is not his most frequently performed work. It is, however, a play filled with silliness and frivolity, puns aplenty and a good slice of physical comedy thrown in. The Shakespeare Institute Players (consisting of Masters and PhD students all specialising in Shakespeare and Early Modern studies) clearly love and relish Shakespeare’s words and characters, creating a production brimming with fun and vibrant personalities.
Both sets of lovers; the foppish and lovelorn gentlemen of Navarre’s court and the facetious, quick-witted ladies attending the Princess of France, have an infectious group chemistry, led by Charlie Morton as Ferdinand (King of Navarre) and Jen Waghorn (Princess of France). Berowne (renamed Biron in this production) and Rosaline, played by Joe Deverell-Smith and Olivia Dutson, handle the verse and witty repartee ably. The various tricks and deceits the two groups perform on each other create ample opportunity for comedy, something that is fully exploited by all the actors. I found myself bursting into spontaneous eruptions of laughter at the sight of the four men, disguised in fur hats, coats and beards, performing a vigorous Russian-inspired dance with such focus and determination. That was just one of the incidences in which the traverse staging worked its magic to allow personal interactions between audience members and actors. Other moments of audience interaction were handled well, allowing the audience to relax and feel involved. Elliot Lambert and Lucia Deyi were particularly successful at bringing out the comedy in their characters of Boyet and Holofernes respectively. However, the stand out performance for me came from Rebecca Lawton whose Don Adriano De Armado mispronounced words beautifully and whose stage presence (anticipated by a few Spanish strums on the guitar) and posture in cape and boots oozed an insecure bravado.
“A production brimming with fun and vibrant personalities.”
The pre-set and interval are filled with love songs performed by the musically talented cast, accompanying their vocals with a variety of instruments including an accordion and ukulele. It creates a lovely atmosphere and an enjoyable pre-show concert, though I can’t help think that weaving the songs into the narrative might work even better. If the production is not meant to be a musical then why include the songs at all? The love songs from a variety of eras and artists contrasted with the Elizabethan-style costumes (some particularly stunning breeches or “puffling pants” to take Ben Elton’s coinage from Upstart Crow, seemingly made from velvet curtain material). Running at almost three hours, this is not a snappy show. Perhaps the Players could consider being a bit freer with the scissors and allowing some of the less easily understandable witticisms to go. There were many times at which the pacing suffered from the sheer weight and complexity of the verbal jousting. Although I know the play well, I still got lost at times and felt uncertain of what exactly was being said and who was winning the rhetorical argument. That being said, the few noticeable changes made to the text worked to enhance the humour perfectly.
One of the most peculiarly downhearted endings out of all of Shakespeare’s comedies, Love’s Labour’s Lost bounds towards a fun and farcical conclusion before being brought abruptly to a halt by bad news and the lovers divided for a year’s contemplation. Some productions try to explain away the sudden melancholic turn whilst others all but ignore it. Bronwyn Barnwell’s direction instead poignantly highlights the unexpected twist; the couples separate one by one as the cast sing the final song.
Love’s Labour’s Lost will be performed at The Shakespeare Institute in Stratford Upon Avon on the 1st February at 19:15, 2nd February 13:15 and 19:15, and 3rd February at 17:30.
Tickets can be reserved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.