Love's Labour's Lost, one of Shakespeare's earlier works, has never been among his most popular plays, for good reason.
Thought to have been written to be performed at the Inns of Court, it adopts a particularly convoluted and complex style, with intricate word-plays and allusions to the poetry of the time, that can seem tedious and inaccessible to modern audiences.
The tale is fairly straightforward though. The King of Navarre persuades his three knights to take an oath that they will devote themselves totally to their studies for three years, without the company of woman. This plan is immediately derailed by the arrival of the Princess and her three ladies-in-waiting. On meeting the women, the nobles of course fall instantly in love and try to fool their companions into believing they are still true to their vow. As side-plots, Don Adriano comically pursues the country wench, Jaquenetta, while the scholars, Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel, watch the proceedings and chat pedantically in schoolboy Latin.
Grassroots' heavy-handed production is loud and brash and avoids nuance until late in the final act, when the Princess receives news of her father's death. Lucas Livesey (Ferdinand of Navarre), Alec Parkinson (Berowne), Denholm Spurr (Dumain) and Jonathan Akingba (Longaville) give the four noblemen the requisite air of lovelorn yearning and willing stupidity as the women switch favours to toy with them.
Alex Bedward's Rosaline is playful and clever and her Dull, the constable, a delightful comic turn. It's in the other comic figures that the labours become lost. Robert Nairne's physical comedy as Don Adriano is hilarious, but the Spanish accent is trowelled on so thick that the dialogue sometimes disappears completely. James Swanton's Holofernes indulges in facial acrobatics and extreme gurning that is initially amusing but soon becomes irritating.
Fortunately, the production is redeemed at the end by a perfectly performed comic song from the rustic, Costard (Boris Mitkov) and Don Adriano's servant, Moth (Matthew Cavendish) who throughout provide some lovely comedy moments.
In the oppressively humid confines of the Old Red Lion's small performance space, Love's Labour's Lost has its moments, but overall is rather over-cooked and could do with a huge dollop of subtlety.