Love’s Labour’s Lost is not one of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays. I confess I had no idea of the storyline. However, Christopher Luscombe’s version for the Royal Shakespeare Company soon dispelled any doubts I previously had, the tale unfolding into a riotous, comic and bittersweet two and a half hours.
For those unfamiliar with the play, I can best describe it as Much Ado About Nothing, (being performed aptly as Love’s Labour’s Lost’s sister play this season under the name Love’s Labour’s Won) with a dash of tragedy at the end, complemented by a group of ‘players’ akin to the Mechanicals of A Midsummer Night’s Dream also thrown into the mix.
For the majority of the play, I, and the rest of the audience were in hysterics
The story begins as the King of Navarre and his three friends at court swear an oath to study for three years and forgo the society of women. The timely arrival of the Princess of France and her retinue, however, soon make the four bachelors want to change their minds. The comic subplot of the Spanish traveller, Don Armado and the ‘commonwealth’ of the servants and villagers add to the hilarity and wit of the play.
Shakespeare is not often perceived as being a laugh-out-loud playwright, but the sharp humour of Love’s Labour’s Lost, mixed with the abilities and comic timing of the actors meant that for the majority of the play, I, and the rest of the audience were in hysterics.
The trio of John Hodgkinson’s flamboyant Don Armado, angelic-voiced Moth (played exuberantly by Peter McGovern), and the fantastic Nick Haverson as lowly gardener Costard, created many moments of hilarity, which were complemented by the moving music specially composed for this production by Nigel Hess.
There was not a weak performer in the twenty-three strong cast
There was not a weak performer in the twenty-three strong cast, with other stand outs being Edward Bennett, as a passionate and droll Berowne, one of the King’s friends, whose moving monologue persuaded not just the other actors, but the audience too of the powers of love.
Similarly, Leah Whitaker as the Princess of France whose sorrowful refusal of the King of Navarre until a year and a day had passed; thus prompting her ladies to follow suit, showed the real meaning of the play’s title, and caused a tear to come to my eye (and those of my supposedly macho friends sitting beside me)
The attention to period detail and the meticulous recreation of aspects of Charlecote…combine to create an amazing unconventional set on three levels designed by Simon Higlett
The play is set before the First World War, in the last glorious Edwardian summer at the stately home of Charlecote Park, near Stratford-upon-Avon (where Shakespeare himself was supposedly found poaching) Indeed, the attention to period detail and the meticulous recreation of aspects of Charlecote, complete with the innovative use of the RSC’s thrust stage combine to create an amazing unconventional set on three levels designed by Simon Higlett.
In keeping with the bittersweet farewells during the final scenes, a sense of change, foreboding and loss was immediately conjured in the poignant marching entrance at the end of the play of the four bachelors in full army uniform. From the action and glee of the earlier scenes in the play, this subdued moment truly changed the mood of the audience, and looked forward to Love’s Labour’s Lost’s corresponding show this season, Love’s Labour’s Won or Much Ado About Nothing, which Luscombe chose to set in 1918, after World War One.
Luscombe’s version of Love’s Labour’s Lost [is] a fantastic version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece
The physical comedy of the rooftop scene, with all the suitors declaring their love for their respective ladies, alongside humorous teddy bear usage, and even a cheeky Shakespearean poo joke meant Luscombe’s version of Love’s Labour’s Lost was a fantastic version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece (and my new favourite play) Love’s Labour’s Won will be broadcast live in a few weeks, and you can guarantee I’ll be sat in the front row to watch the continuation of the tale. See you there!