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A CurtainUp London Review
Love's Labour's Lost
This Love's Labour's Lost possesses a Spartan restraint in terms of sound effects, music, design and staging. Instead, the play's verbal pyrotechnics are given centre stage, sometimes at the cost of more spontaneous humour or energy. The result is a classic, gimmick-free production of a difficult play and, although not a hilarious, exuberant comedy, presents a clear delivery of a knotty, dense text.
On the expansive, Elizabethan-shaped stage of the new Rose, the only decoration is a central, black ornamental gate and, appropriately enough for the studious, wordy bent of the play, a lectern. In spite of some traditional Tudor costumes, the production's asceticism matches the Lords' intended endurance of abstinence. Furthermore, the frugality of the production values reflects the text's celebration of moderation, as opposed to the excesses of desire, suppressed or otherwise, and verbal superfluity which is detached from truth.
Finbar Lynch's Berowne is an older and more detached, cynical observer, in the style of Benedick, rather than the typical romantic comedy hero this character is played as. However, his eye-glinting charm and excellently spoken speeches guarantee that he is the audience's focal point of interest, engagement and sympathy. On the other side of the court divide, Rachel Pickup's Princess of France combines sharp wit and energy with an abundance of common sense which is, of course, significantly lacking under the King's regime.
Peter Bowles is given star billing as Don Armado and he enjoys a magnificent Don Quixote costume with plumed hat, black and gold finery and a red matador cloak but, oddly enough, no Spanish accent. He does, however, nicely present the tension between emasculating love and marital valour plaguing this unwilling Lothario. Kevin Trainor's Moth was also a delight, with wide-eyed innocence and a castrato-pitched voice but also a mischievous, shrewish streak.
Although pleasant and watchable, this is not an uproariously funny production. Its discipline and austerity also sacrifices the impact of the Mercadé's harsh interruption. Without the preface of sheer fun and silliness, the forcible reminder of death loses its light and darkness contrast and the shattering of the love and laughter is less striking. Nevertheless, this production is revelatory in its lucidity and the play's core themes are easily perceptible, undisguised by superficial, distracting gestures such as an overly-sumptuous design. In particular, the text is restored to the centre of interest. Therefore, the elaborate interchanges, pretentious circumlocutions, cryptic utterances and esoteric riddles are all unequivocally tackled instead of skipped over as awkward and incomprehensible to a modern audience. By presenting them in all their glorious, over-constructed sophistication, it is also clear that they are essentially meaningless. Sir Peter Hall's production cannily demonstrates this central theme: that overly dexterous words are clever but can lose their connection to reality and, when it comes to sincerity, "honest plain words" are best.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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