LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST
RST, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 22nd October, 2014
Simon Higlett’s gorgeous set has more than a touch of Downton Abbey about it – in fact this production is like watching the TV show but with proper drama. Shakespeare’s early rom-com is given an Edwardian treatment by director Christopher Luscombe, who does not stint on neither the rom nor the com. The comic business complements the script – unlike some productions where funny ideas are imposed on scenes – and the result is an absolute joy of a show.
Sam Alexander is the King of Navarre, recruiting his mates into a pact involving three years of abstinence and celibacy. Of course, any rules spelled out in a story are bound to be broken – remember Gremlins? – and so the comedy of the first half unfolds, with each member of the brotherhood breaking the rules and being discovered. Alexander is the cuddly Hugh Bonneville of the group and is more than ably supported by William Belchambers as Longaville, Tunji Kasim as Dumaine and Edward Bennett as proto-Benedick Berowne. The eavesdropping scene is played out on the rooftop and is superbly handled by this quartet.
Most of the rom comes from Nigel Hess’s sumptuous score and some beautiful singing by Peter McGovern as the boy Moth.
More com comes from Chris McCalphy as dull constable Dull and a highly strung Costard (Nick Haverson). John Hodgkinson is very enjoyable as he mangles English pronunciation as the Spaniard Don Armado – I wonder why he has an accent but other visitors, like the French contingent, do not… That said, Jamie Newall’s rich and fruity tones as Boyet, equerry to the French princess, are a treat to the ear.
Leah Whittaker is striking as the fun-loving Princess of France – everyone looks wonderful in the period costumes – and Michelle Terry is likeable as proto-Beatrice Rosaline.
There is plenty of mucking around attired as Muscovites and the presentation of The Nine Worthies is just lovely.
But, just as the outbreak of the First World War interrupted lives and altered things forever, the arrival of bad news from France puts a spanner in the workings of the plot. We do not get the happy ending we expect – in a masterstroke, Shakespeare detonates a surprise and nothing is the same again. Christopher Luscombe handles it superbly. The final image, of the quartet of friends in uniform, marching away, is a salutary reminder of what we are commemorating this year.
Edward Bennett and Sam Alexander, with William Belchambers looking on.
Leave a comment | tags: Chris McCalphy, Christopher Luscombe, Edward Bennett, John Hodgkinson, Leah Whittaker, Love's Labour's Lost, Michelle Terry, Nick Haverson, Nigel Hess, Peter McGovern, review, RSC, Sam Alexander, Simon Highlett, Stratford upon Avon, Tunji Kasim, William Belchambers, William Shakespeare | posted in Theatre Review
Malvern Theatres, Tuesday 27th November, 2012
Graham Linehan’s stage adaptation of the classic film comedy is an unadulterated joy from start to finish. The first aspect of this production that strikes you is the marvellous, higgledy-piggledy set, designed to show several rooms in Mrs Wilberforce’s railwayside house. Walls and doors lurch at bizarre angles like something out of a German expressionist film – or flatpack furniture put together by yours truly. It soon becomes apparent there is a reason for this crooked house: subsidence, but the kooky nature of the environment is the perfect setting for the crazy, off-centre characters who inhabit it. Designer Michael Taylor provides plenty of surprises in his detailed and versatile creation.
Michele Dotrice heads the superb cast as lovable old dodderer, Mrs Wilberforce, who rents out a room to what she thinks is a string quintet. She potters around, oblivious and vulnerable and yet somehow commanding. It is easy to see how the ne’er-do-wells are reluctant to bump her off.
The crooks are masterminded by Professor Marcus (Paul Bown) who is deliciously sinister and ingratiating. As neurotic Major Courtney, Clive Mantle channels John Cleese (and Danny LaRue!); Chris McCalphy is consistently hilarious as dim-witted oaf One Round; Shaun Williamson impresses as Romanian hit man Louis Harvey; and William Troughton’s Harry Robinson is a mass of pent-up energy, guzzling pills and being hit in the face more times than I could count. Marcus Taylor’s Constable Macdonald lends solid support, worldly wise and yet blinkered at the same time. Each character is well-defined, albeit in broad strokes as befits the farcical situation.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the film but I think I can spot updates in the script and Linehan interpolations. The ‘buggers’ are the more obvious contemporary additions. Purists may baulk but the language adds to the incongruence of the hoodlums in the sweet little old lady’s home. The new lines lend darkness to the piece that would be created by other means on film. What we get here is an undoubtedly theatrical piece, with a rich vein of dark humour that reminded me of Arsenic and Old Lace in more ways than one.
Sean Foley directs the ensemble with gusto, keeping the pace going, embracing the silliness and encouraging the larger-than –life. There is an amusing representation of the heist with model cars driving up a wall, and a good deal of physical business to keep the actors occupied. The show is a well-oiled machine but feels absolutely fresh, inventive and funny.
This is much more than a re-enactment of a film. The adaptation gives us a well-made play with its own integrity. Unfortunately, there are other shows doing the rounds that fall short of this requirement. (Dirty Dancing, cough cough)
Leave a comment | tags: Chris McCalphy, Clive Mantle, Graham Linehan, Malvern Theatres, Marcus Taylor, Michael Taylor, Michele Dotrice, Paul Bown, review, Sean Foley, Shaun Williamson, The Ladykillers, William Troughton | posted in Theatre Review