Saturday, 17 December 2016

Review Love's Labour's Lost

Love's Labour's Lost
by William Shakespeare

The Lost Boys

Set in the last heady summer before the First World War, this exquisitely designed production of Shakespeare's early comedy Love's Labour's Lost, directed by Christopher Luscombe, is now presented as a delicious Christmas confection, part of a double bill with Much Ado About Nothing.

Determined to create his own celibate male academic haven, the King of Navarre (Sam Alexander) persuades his comrades to join him in his stately home where he sets up his own personal Oxbridge with turretted ivory towers, ordering all women to be kept at bay.

At the heart of the play is a hierarchy of lovers as the best laid plans come to naught. The King and the Princess of France (Leah Whittaker). The King's bluff confidante Berowne (Edward Bennett) and the French noblewoman Rosaline (Lisa Dillon).

The Kiplingesque bespectacled Longaville (William Belchambers) and the French Katharine (Rebecca Collingwood) and aesthete Dumaine hankering after Maria (Paige Carter).  Then Costard (Nick Haverson), an aproned buffoon of a gardener, yet not to be underestimated, and the affected Spanish fop Don Armado (John Hodgkinson) vying for the love of milkmaid Jaquenetta (Emma Manton).

This elegantly-costumed version with musical score by Nigel Hess and live orchestra fuses a whole plethora of literary, variety, theatre and film influences. Gosford Park rather than Downton Abbey with music in the style of Ivor Novello, Noel Coward and Gilbert and Sullivan

There is also a touch of The Importance of Being Earnest in the archness of the Princess of France and her female entourage, dollops of Brideshead Revisited (or maybe its inspiration, the Evelyn Waugh/John Betjeman Oxford set), echoes of Peter Pan  and even some zany Marx Brothers' antics with a glancing reference also to the Edwardian epitome of male physical prowess, Eugen Sandow.

Nevertheless the Shakespearean verse still shines through and it's an enjoyable lucid production with the Edwardian environment thought through but spreading its net further. Moth (Peter McGovern) has the look of a Winslow Boy naval cadet while Costard, the bowls' playing parson (John Arthur), schoolmaster Holofernes and constable Dull could have stepped out of The Vicar of Dibley.

Designer Simon Higlett's handsome stately home and halcyon outdoor sets provide a handsome and vibrant backdrop with lighting by Oliver Fenwick. There are some curious contrasts stemming from the wide variety of references, with a touch of modern alternative comedy thrown in, and the polished singing.

But this hardly matters in a bright and breezy production until the final moments when it switches to the poignant. It's a populist winning production, and we award a sparkling Christmas bauble of a bright green light

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