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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Love's Labour's Lost
by Lizzie Loveridge

The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.
-- Don Adriano
Love's Labour's Lost
Simon Day (Ferdinand, King Of Navarre), John Barrowman (Dumaine), Tam Mutu (Longaville) And Joseph Fiennes (Berowne) (Photo: John Haynes)
Trevor Nunn bids farewell to his six year tenure in charge of the National Theatre with this rare and enigmatic Shakespeare comedy Love's Labour's Lost. His production is a masterpiece of directorial flair. There are nunnsuch (stet) touches which I can be sure are the inspiration of this great director. Using many of the cast from the musical Anything Goes, Trevor Nunn has adapted the Shakespeare play to display their singing and dancing talents. That is not to say that he has turned Love's Labour's Lost into a musical. He most definitely has not. He takes the vast space of the Olivier and draws us in so that we no longer feel that it is vast but feel intimately involved.

John Gunter's set is breathtaking -- a huge beech tree surrounded by grass and moss and hanging gauze foliage as pretty as any this side of Greenwich Park. The opening scene is a flash back to fighting in the First World War where Joe Fiennes' character, Berowne, is mortally wounded. It takes some time for the smoke and smell of sulphur to dispel. This places the play in the context of a dying man's flash back to happier times, the summer before the Great War. Love's Labour's Lost is mostly a merry play until in the final scenes when the messenger arrives with the news of the death of the princess of France's father. Nunn places this messenger there in his opening scene, a harbinger of what is to come. War and peace are topical issues in the London of early 2003 as the Iraq crisis escalates.

The Edwardian context is suited to the play. The 1914-18 war is a great watershed dividing the antiquity of the nineteenth century from the modernity of the twentieth with all the technology. Trevor Nunn captures the nostalgia for this lost and elegant world where the women wear picture hats and long white lace dresses like the early film footage of the Tsarina Alexandra and her daughters, the Romanov grand duchesses.

As usual Love's Labour's Lost is full of unintelligible language, the puns of Shakespeare's day where only a rare scholar laughs in the audience, the rest of us look perplexed and applaud the line when Holofernes says "Via, goodman Dull! thou hast spoken no word all this while" and Dull replies, "Nor understood none neither, sir." I think the answer is to let the language drift over one rather than worrying about the lack of comprehension. The problem with language does not relate to the main storyline but to the subsidiary one with the schoolmaster Holofernes (Robin Soans).

Joseph Fiennes speaks Shakespeare's verse in such an interesting way. He is made to play a lover. His voice has a delightful crack as it seems to break with emotion or for emphasis. He is detached from the other courtiers, more intellectual than they, but like them is smitten by the ardour of new love. His comic scenes from the tree as he observes the others singing their love sonnets are exquisite. Kate Fleetwood plays Rosaline, the "wightly wanton with the velvet brow with two pitch balls stuck in her face for eyes." She is slightly edgy, more complicated than the other women and presumably, to Berowne, in this forerunner to Much Ado's Beatrice and Benedick, a challenge. I liked Olivia Williams' pale and stately princess -- there is a wonderful moment when both she and her ultimate suitor, Ferdinand, the King of Navarre (Simon Day) simultaneously discover that they need reading glasses. I loved the rich fruitiness of Martin Marquez's Spanish accent as Don Adriano de Armado.

The highlight of this production is Nunn's seamless changes of scenes, actors come and go smoothly. Berowne makes a sliding entrance as he pretends to read a book and skids to a halt. The men in declaring their love roll around on the ground in a parody of passionate desire, unaware that they are observed and about to be exposed when they deny being in love. The girls collapse in synchronised unison when a boring speech goes on too long. The Cossack scene is a delight, the men stroking affectionately their long beards and two of them Longaville (Tam Mutu) and Dumaine (John Barrowman) mastering the real Cossack dances. Simon Day as Ferdinand keeps getting the Russian accent wrong and gives us blasts of Scots and Welsh instead.

The play finishes as it began with a scene from the war and here Rosaline is spotlighted as a nurse tending to the wounded on the battlefield reminding us of her words to Berowne, that in their year apart, "Therefore if you my favour mean to get, A twelvemonth shall you spend, and never rest, But seek the weary beds of people sick." So Nunn ends his production echoing the harshness of the words of Mercury, the god who carried dead souls to the underworld which have replaced the love songs of Apollo. Surely this production answers the critics of his tenure at the National and more.

LINKS to Curtain Up reviews of productions of Love's Labour's Lost

Love's Labour's Lost in Regent's Park
Love's Labour's Lost in the Berkshires

Love's Labour's Lost
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Trevor Nunn

Starring: Joseph Fiennes, Olivia Williams
With: Simon Day, Tam Mutu, John Barrowman, Martin Marquez, Akiya Henry, Jane Fowler, Mary Stockley, Kate Fleetwood, Philip Voss, Christopher Bennett, Tom Espiner, Robin Soans, Paul Grunert, Duncan Smith, Richard Henders, Annette McLaughlin, Daniel Crossley, Anthony Cable, Yao Chin, Jye Frasca, Charlotte Gorton, Shaun Henson, Duncan MacVicar, Jane Mark, Corey Skaggs, Nicola Sloane, Rachel Stanley, Lee William-Davis, Claire Winsper, Nikki Worrall, Lewis Crutch, Freddie Hale, Thomas Moll, Toby Parkes, David Perkins
Designer: John Gunter
Lighting Designer: David Hersey
Music: Steven Edis
Movement: David Bolger
Sound: Paul Groothuis
Running time: Three hours minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking to 15th March 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 21st February 2003 Performance at the Olivier Theatre National Theatre London SE1
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