On Bankside, the Globe’s season continues despite intrusions from poor weather and cast illnesses (See News, 12 Jun 2007). Artistic director Dominic Dromgoole helms their first-ever production of Shakespeare’s early comedy Love's Labour's Lost, which opened on Wednesday 11 July, following on from Othello and The Merchant of Venice.

The plot revolves around four young noblemen who take a joint oath to swear off women for three years, devoting themselves to the higher pursuit of intellectual study. However, their earnest plans are thrown into disarray with the arrival of a beautiful French princess and her three equally lovely companions. This satire of courtly love is supplemented by several subplots and stock comedy characters, including a clever page, a village idiot, a clown and two obsessively pedantic academics.

The production was designed by Jonathan Fensom, with Renaissance-style music composed by Claire van Kampen. Cast members included Trystan Gravelle, Michelle Terry, Christopher Godwin, Timothy Walker, Gemma Arterton, John Bett and Joe Caffrey.

Love's Labour's Lost is noted by many reviewers as being a particularly difficult Shakepeare play to mount, containing much in the way of complex wordgames, literary parody, and pendantic verbal jousting. Indeed, one went so far as to claim that it is in parts “impenetrable even to people well-versed in the Bard's works”. It was generally noted that Dromgoole’s emphasis on physical comedy was an effort to get around this inaccessibility, but opinion varied as to how successful this was. Views ranged from the production seeming “robust and full of brio” to “particularly unengaging”. Older members of the cast got more plaudits for their acting efforts, Christopher Godwin drawing praise from most, and showing “how it should be done”. The young lovers, however, divided opinion, and were said to be “speaking too fast for comprehension”. Timothy Walker was branded “too inaudible” and Joe Caffrey’s clown “tiresome”. Despite this, the play reportedly amused the audience with its comedic touches, and although not called brilliant, was better than average for some critics.

  • Michael Coveney for Whatsonstage.com (three stars) -
    Dominic Dromgoole’s production of Love's Labour's Lost is frantic, knockabout comedy from beginning to end. However, every double entendre is lavishly emphasised, acting as a metaphorical dig in the ribs to the audience - it’s as if Frankie Howerd had got hold of the script … Dromgoole plays down the darker side entirely to embrace the bawdiness … the princess and her entourage are presented as very modern women, mocking their lovers’ courting rituals and making suggestive remarks about the sexual possibilities … It doesn’t help that this is one of the filthiest plays that Shakespeare wrote: there’s some outrageous sexual punning in nearly every scene; meat and drink to the Globe groundlings … There are some well-judged performances though. Trystan Gravelle is an eloquent Berowne, Michelle Terry is one of the sprightliest princesses I’ve seen. I liked Christopher Godwin’s dry-as-dust, yet somehow sympathetic Holofernes and Seroca Davis is an engaging Moth, spinning out some of the rudest lines with a sweet innocence. Timothy Walker’s Don Armado, however, is too often inaudible, a stark reminder of how unforgiving the Globe stage can be. Jonathan Fensom’s intricate, knot garden set extends from the Globe stage, bringing the action closer to the groundlings … it’s certainly a jolly evening. But for me, there’s a bit too much “songs of Apollo” and not enough harsh “words of Mercury” to make this Love's Labour's Lost truly memorable.

  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph -
    Watching Dominic Dromgoole's laborious production, I found myself half wishing that it had vanished into obscurity along with its lost companion-piece, Love's Labour's Won … Love's Labour's Lost can work, just about, with top-of-the-range classical actors capable of illuminating the meaning of the verse and designs that conjure up an aristocratic Arcadian idyll. Neither are forthcoming here … RSC veteran Christopher Godwin shows how it should be done, but elsewhere much of the vocal delivery is dismal. Jonathan Fensom's design, with elevated walkways jutting out into the audience, seems cumbersome rather than elegant. And though this is a play that almost always benefits from a clever update, the costumes are strictly Elizabethan with much Renaissance music played on shawms, various horns and something called the rackett, a not entirely unfair description of Claire van Kampen's score … Trystan Gravelle proves a lightweight, gabbling and mysteriously Welsh Berowne, Timothy Walker almost tragically unfunny as the preposterous Spaniard Armado, Michelle Terry downright vulgar as the princess, while Joe Caffrey's Costard is very possibly the most tiresome Shakespearean clown I have ever encountered - and believe me, there's strong competition. The Globe may pack the punters in but it urgently needs to raise its artistic game.

  • Kieron Quirke in the Evening Standard (two stars) –
    This is a particularly unengaging rendering. It starts poorly - a fatal thing. This play lives and dies by convincing its audience of the highfalutin world it inhabits … Here, we get four average blokes speaking too fast for comprehension. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith's Ferdinand is a nothingy sort of fellow. Of his three sidekicks, only Trystan Gravelle's Berowne is distinguishable for his seething Celtic aggression … Timothy Walker works hard as comedy foil Don Armado - the Spanish braggart who spends most of the time "disputing" with his page - but the rhetorical exercises he puts Seroca Davies through seem bafflingly pointless. Similarly, once the ladies turn up to break the lords' fast, the battle of wits that ensues, featuring masques, disguises and more disputation, seems not so much gamesome as dully arbitrary. Michelle Terry coolly makes a virtue out of the chaos, imbuing her Princess with a flighty quality … Newcomer Gemma Arterton as Rosaline arches her eyebrows and tongues her cheek perfectly well, but (happy curse) is most mentionable for being very, very beautiful. I doubt she is long for the stage. The verse-speaking is poor. The youngsters fail to land the jokes (hard) and rarely convey their meaning (easier). The oldsters fare better but are infuriatingly slow about it. Inevitably, more humour comes from the stage business than the words.

  • Paul Taylor in the Independent -
    There are patches in this play that are impenetrable even to people well-versed in the Bard's works … So it's a pleasure to report that Dominic Dromgoole's zestful production succeeds in captivating the audience to a degree that I would not have thought possible … It's a refreshing change to see this most Elizabethan of Shakespeare's comedies presented in period. Jonathan Fensom's design is a delight, lashing large book-illustrations of trees to the pillars and sending an Elizabethan knot garden out into the courtyard … As Berowne, the wittiest but most insensitively clever of the immature males, Trystan Gravelle gives a performance of real comic clout, equipping this wordsmith with a Welsh accent that deftly suggests a windbag emotional defensiveness, though he could afford to put a lot more stress on the character's snooty sophistication. Michelle Terry is a sparky, mettlesome Princess … Timothy Walker brings a hilariously tragic self-involvement to the Spanish braggart Don Armado, while Christopher Godwin as the preposterously pedantic schoolmaster even adds some dotty puns of his own, "arse-suring" us, for example, that "the posterior of the day" is a sweet and apt term to denote "the afternoon". Robust and full of brio, the production may be stronger on horseplay than on subtle wordplay, but it's a treat to see just how much of the comedy communicates itself to the loudly appreciative audience.

  • Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail (three stars) –
    Not one of Shakespeare’s best… for so much of it, characters are mocked by others for the way they speak – Timothy Walker’s touchingly melancholic Spanish braggart De Armando, for instance … This Globe production has charm and continues a lively season under the command of Dominic Dromgoole, who also directs here. Mr. Dromgoole’s has injected a saucy skittishness at this medieval repro venue and is drawing plenty of reaction from the youthful ‘groundlings’ … Trystan Gravelle as Berowne, one of the male suitors, particularly catches the eye with his zest. Of the women, Rhiannon Oliver as peasant bicycle Jaquenetta has a cleavage that sould qualify her as a modern Home Secretary. A strong singing voice too. Newcomer Gemma Arterton also flashes a high-cheekboned hauteur as Rosaline. But the real plaudits go to John Bett and Christopher Godwin… the show lifts a gear when these two character strut and puff… When even a small role such as Dull the constable is done with understated brilliance (by Andrew Vincent) you know you are watching a well-drilled company.

  • Simon Edge in the Express (three stars) -
    The tangled romp is Shakespeare's most wordy comedy. It's a challenge to bring to life a text full of Elizabethan verbal jousting. There is much to enjoy in Dominic Dromgoole's traditional-dress production. A strong cast includes a brilliant Michelle Terry as the riot-girl princess, while Joe Caffrey wins the comic honours as the red-faced swain Costard, a barrel of bubbling Geordie testosterone. The play's set pieces, notably the eavesdropping scene and the pageant of the nine worthies, also milk the physical comedy for all it's worth … But a play that contains not one but two characters whose 'humour' comes from boring everyone silly is bound to tax the patience of a modern audience in this least comfortable of theatres. Timothy Walker, stretching the insufferable Armado far beyond the point of toleration, is pure theatrical Mogadon. Ultimately, the laughs the cast get are created by comic verbal inflexions and physical mugging rather than what they actually say. The result is that the play itself struggles to hang together.

    -by Stuart Denison