“He draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the staple of his argument”
Working my way through the Globe DVD collection from their 2009 season has been good fun and a nice way to catch up on shows that I did not see and in the case of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a show that I have never actually seen. Dominic Dromgoole’s revival of his 2007 production brought back several original cast members (although sadly not Gemma Arterton who made her stage debut here) to this early Shakespearean comedy.
Not having any knowledge or preconceptions about a play is always a nice state of affairs for me, but by the end I could tell that this was surely going to be one of those of his works that is deemed problematic. The King of Navarre and his court decide to forswear women and pleasure for serious study but the arrival of the Princess of France and her ladies and their mischievous ways challenges their resolve. But not content with four potential couplings, the youthful Shakespeare works in a number of additional sub-plots which seriously pull focus from any main story and combined with an extreme wordiness – it’s often trying too hard to be clever to be genuinely funny – and a kicker of an ending, it does make for a rather odd experience.
Dromgoole’s answer is to play to the audience as much as possible and pulling out the comedy from every angle, whether intended by the playwright or not. Consequently, there’s often a mismatch between the verse that is spoken, mostly extremely well, and the broad mugging and physical comedy that abounds. It doesn’t help that I am not a fan of this almost slapstick style but I found Fergal McElherron’s clownish Costard to be tiresome in the extreme and totally unbelievable as someone Rhiannon Oliver’s Jacquenetta would be so romantically interested in. And reducing Patrick Godfrey and Christopher Godwin to fart jokes just feels like a crime to me.
When these excesses are reined in, there is fun to be had here. The interplay between the four Navarre men is full of horn-blowing amusement, Philip Cumbus’ single-minded Duke is great and Trystan Gravelle’s mellifluous tones gliding silkily over the text is a sheer pleasure. The ladies’ court didn’t quite come off quite as well. Michelle Terry is excellent as the quick-witted Princess but there was something a little too slick about the women around her, Thomasin Rand’s Rosalin in particular coming across as far too composed, ironically Tom Stuart’s manservant is the most likeable over here.
The interaction between the two groups provided much of the sparkiness as they negotiate the nicely intricate knotted garden of the set. The choreographed movements as their hunting and reading are counterpointed and their mental conflicts played out make for a great use of the Globe’s space and Terry and Gravelle’s bantering is a sight to behold. The oddness still persists with some dodgy Russian accents in a bizarre sequence, the play-within-a-play towards the end and the difficult character of Don Armado, Paul Ready’s heavily accented turn as the ludicrous Spaniard doing about as well as could be expected with such an awkward part.
So an odd one. I was glad for the chance to see the show, it is put on so rarely who knows when the opportunity will present itself again, and the quality of the cast means that this is always watchable. The puppet deer predictably offended my sensibilities and making them kiss was just plain freaky, but perhaps symptomatic of the perceived need to invigorate the play. The novelty value of seeing the show for the first time meant I was engaged throughout and so somewhat sucker-punched by the ending which comes from nowhere and affords one group a barely-earned superiority that I found puzzling. Worthy of filming? I’m not sure on what basis these decisions are made and I don’t think anyone would acclaim this to be a classic production worthy of repeated viewings, but I enjoyed watching it the once.