LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Monday 30th January, 2012
Shakespeare’s early comedy is like a try-out for the works to come. Characterisations and plot devices that are put to more effective use in later works are put to use in a sort of preliminary sketch. Smart-arse Berowne is an embryonic Benedick from Much Ado but nowhere near as lovable; the Presentation of the Nine Worthies is a precursor of the Mechanicals’ Pyramus And Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream…
What lifts Love’s Labour’s Lost and is its redeeming feature is the sudden turn of events in the final act. What has been up to this point a trivial piece of frippery and tomfoolery suddenly changes with the arrival of bad news. All at once, characters acquire depth. They are forced to grow up and what was light-hearted and a bit of a laugh becomes bittersweet and touching.
Northern Broadsides is a company that prides itself on its northern roots and the promotion of all things northern. An admirable stance, to be sure, and it is always refreshing to hear Shakespeare in accents other than RP. For the most part, the northern timbre suits the play rather well. Coming from the four young fops it is a kind of low-rent camp. In the mouth of the pedant Holofernes (Barrie Rutter) it has a certain authority even if his overly verbose spoutings are impenetrable. Where it jars, for me, is in the mouth of the French princess (Sophia Hatfield) – the broadness of her accent is more suited to scrubbing doorsteps and gossiping about Elsie Tanner and Nora Batty, and any other northern stereotypes you might care to dredge up. It is a spirited performance, full of fun but I prefer royalty to have a few more airs and graces.
It is a production of moments rather than of moment. There is some fine comic playing, adding physicality to what is a very wordy text. Of the fops I particularly liked Owen Findlay as King Ferdinand, hurling himself across the stage to avoid discovery, but I couldn’t really warm to Matt Connor’s Berowne.
Above all it was some of the “lower” characters who shone for me. Emily Aston’s Jacquenetta is a stern-faced wench; Roy North (formerly Mister Roy, friend to Basil Brush) delights as Dull the Constable (it’s a pity he doesn’t have more to do); Dean Whatton is an energetic and enthusiastic Moth, eclipsed only (and literally) by Adam Fogarty’s gentle giant Costard, who lumbers around, aiming to please, and striving to keep up with the dazzling wordplay zapping around his head. It is an endearing performance. Costard is surely a forerunner to Bottom in the Dream, minus the braggadocio.
The set is minimal –allowing room in the performance space for this rather large cast to cavort and parade around. The costumes, especially of the rich, suggest the decadence of the 1920s without being ostentatious.
Director Barrie Rutter wrings an enjoyable evening from a play that demands a great deal from the ears of the audience. One of the biggest laughs comes when Dull, who has not spoken a word, confesses he has understood none neither. It is a relief to us to know we aren’t expected to follow the rhetoric of all this verbal diarrhoea but rather to laugh at the pomposity of the speakers.
All the music is provided by members of the cast – the King whips out a cello, the princess’s attendants a flute and clarinet. At one point, the rest of the cast blow accompaniment across the necks of beer bottles.
The play invites us to delight in the silliness of being in love but reminds us, that while we are messing around, the business of real life is always lurking, ready to burst our bubble.