Love’s Labour’s Lost, with its noble characters seeing themselves as artistic academics, may not seem the most suitable Shakespeare play for Northern Broadsides, but, if the Northern accent of some Broadsides’ productions is less in evidence this time, the directness of utterance remains.
Barrie Rutter’s production negotiates the problematic tone of Love’s Labour’s Lost with confidence, authority and a great sense of fun. The incessant word-play of the first half may sometimes seem not worth unravelling, but the youth of the cast helps to make the nobles human and sympathetic as well as being (inevitably) occasionally tiresome. The story hardly convinces: the King of Navarre gives up all carnal pleasure for three years while he studies and contemplates with three male companions, only to be visited by the Princess of France and three gentlewomen, an event succeeded by a mass falling in love. However, the Broadsides’ production not only savours the farcical results of this, but finds the play’s humanity which grows together with the maturity of characters taking a gap year from life.
Love’s Labour’s Lost looks and sounds good. Jessica Worrall’s 1930-ish costumes are excellent, whether elegant or imaginatively comical, with plenty of witty colour-coding and an affectionately droll take on English pastoral which chimes with Beverley Norris-Edmunds’ choreography and Conrad Nelson’s superbly judged music, with instrumental contributions by all 16 in the cast, plus some first-class a cappella choral singing.
Owen Findlay makes a promising stage debut as the King and Sophia Hatfield’s Princess blends pertness and hauteur. In the hands of Matt Connor and Catherine Kinsella, the Berowne-Rosaline relationship becomes a prototype for the merry war of Beatrice and Benedick, with Connor’s mixture of mischief and sincerity a winning combination. Overall, however, the lovers shine more as an exuberant ensemble than as individuals. Andy Cryer finds laughs in the right places as a nimble, preening and unusually youthful Boyet, the courtier accompanying the French ladies.
The assorted peasants and pedants who lurch giddily into the orbit of the aristocratic poseurs can hardly be faulted. Adam Fogerty’s monumental Costard, the blundering word-mangling rustic who is rather wiser than his betters, is a constant delight; Andrew Vincent strikes poses and elongates his vowels with equal relish as Don Adriano de Armado; Barrie Rutter (Holofernes) pontificates pompously in both Latin and almost equally incomprehensible English; and Roy North, Emily Aston, Dean Whatton and Fine Time Fontayne all contribute fully to the fun and to the shift in mood towards an ending, always surprisingly moving, here beautifully realised with the aid of Nelson’s music.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is on at The Viaduct, Halifax until 10 March, moving to Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough 12 – 17 March and the West Yorkshire Playhouse 3 – 14 April.