Love’s Labours Lost is a play that you don’t get many chances to see. This is a shame. It was written around the same time as Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer night’s Dream and there is no shortage of productions of those two to sit through. It may not be the most accessible of Shakespeare’s plays, as it makes no apologies for being in love with the language of the time and some of the contemporary allusions will be lost to us, but it still deserves to be seen. There is some lovely verse along the way and plenty of youthful high jinks. Shakespeare has great fun sending up the nobility and the pompous poseurs of his day before providing a sting in the tail and a sudden change of mood that reminds the characters, and the audience, that life is not all about ale houses and wenching, fun though they are. Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. Love is not just a game, however well you play it. It is serious stuff, and long term commitment has to be earned by possessing more than a sharp wit and a handsome face. The three young men who begin the play by making a long term vow to study and be chaste, vows which are never likely to last, learn the hard way that if they are to get what they want they will have to do it for real.
Northern Broadsides have provided us with a sparky, fast paced production which helps things along nicely when it comes to understanding and getting past the convoluted wordplay. Andrew Vincent as Don Adriano de Armado makes a fine double act with Dean Watton’s delightful Moth. Even those who do not know the reputation of the Spanish court of the time can recognise an over the top poseur when they see one and enjoy seeing a type who is still out there walking the streets today. The early audiences must have been thrilled to see a Spaniard, the old enemy, being lampooned so thoroughly. Barrie Rutter has a harder job as Holofernes, and takes the brunt of some of the more obscure, pompous Latin flights of fancy but it is a nice part for him, and it gives Roy North as Constable Dull one of the productions biggest laughs when he admits that he hasn’t understood a word of it. Neither did many of us in the audience, and in the end it didn’t matter that much. The play’s broad comedy is a welcome diversion from the wordiness and the production really takes off in the second half when the three young suitors have their pretentious bubbles burst by the three young women who have heard it all before and know from experience that the ardour of these three young men is best taken with a pinch of salt, even when they mean well.
It is important that not all the young people are rich young poseurs without self awareness or wit as we need to have someone wry, self aware and quick witted to identify with and I was very thankful that Shakespeare has given us Berowne. It is a lovely part and Matt Connor makes the most of it, building up a nice rapport with the audience and making some of the best verse in the play clear and meaningful. It is a charming performance. He has a worthy sparring partner in Catherine Kinsella’s playful and vibrant Rosaline. They are a perfect match, an early sketch for Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado, and one can only hope that they finally get their happy ending. When Berowne says dryly that a year of abstinence and study before they can be together is “too long for a play” one can only hope that it does not prove too long for him as well. Nothing is certain. All the fun and wit which has been on display is just so much dancing towards the darkness and Shakespeare can’t resist pointing that out to the shallow, self seeking aristocrats who first saw it.
I wish that some of the theatre managers who were not sure about booking in this tour of Love’s Labour’s Lost because it was not one of the popular Shakespeare plays had been sitting in the audience at the packed matinee I saw in Scarborough. Listening to those around me in the audience it was clear that many had not had the opportunity to see it before and they were interested and pleased to have the chance. We were all well aware that it is perhaps not his greatest play- of course it isn’t- and we didn’t mind. We still wanted to see it, even the large group of teenagers who were filling the back seats of the theatre who were quiet and engaged all the way through. Thank you Northern Broadsides for giving us the chance.