A review of Loves Labours Lost…all the way from India!

Ok, so I have to be careful, and be objective here. I’m here to review Water Lane Theatre Company’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost”. I’ll be honest: I’ve acted and directed in their plays for the last 15 years but this is the first time in probably 14 years where I’ve had absolutely nothing to do with one of their productions…so how on earth do I review it?

For a start, I live in India, but decided that I really, really, really wanted to see this play, despite having to travel to the UK to see it…in a single weekend. I’ll explain in a bit.
Why did I really, really, really want to see it? Because WLTC rocks with Shakespeare!

Short of travelling to the Globe, they’re the only game in town when it comes to performing the Bard – and play it well. Like RSC at the Globe, they also do minimal sets (as did the Elizabethan stage): their Shakespeares have always been set in the beautiful Monastery Gardens in Bishops Stortford: punters are invited to make an evening of it by bringing a picnic…and maybe the odd bottle of wine? Blankets tend to be a must because, no matter how warm it might be during the day, it’s normally fair to say that it will be chilly in the evening. So, location, tick.

Picnic, wine, blanket: ready to be entertained. What – Shakespeare entertaining – You must be kidding? No, not at all – Shakespeare CAN be entertaining, IF the audience is part of the show and the magic is provided. What’s the quote from Henry V when the chorus comes on stage?

Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts:
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance.
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hooves i’th’receiving earth.
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there, jumping o’er times,
Turning th’accomplishment of many years
Into an hourglass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history,
Who, prologue-like, your humble patience pray
Gently to hear, kindly to judge our play.

Basically, Shakespeare was saying to the audience, “forget the fact that we’ve no set, use your imagination!” – or words to that effect.

Right, back to LLL. Why does this involve the audience? Because of the gardens, because of the picnic (and possibly a lot to do with the wine), and that many entrances and exits are through the audience, giving the further feel that they are literally IN the play.

LLL isn’t an easy play to understand – it’s one of Bill’s earliest plays and certainly one of the wordiest. There’s a lot that was cut – everybody does it and, to be honest, you have to because some is just not relevant to the play, being commentary for the time. I didn’t read the synopsis in the program (which was funny!) so I had to really listen and think hard about what was being said and what the metaphors meant. But the actors knew what they were saying; They wanted to be part of this play, to be directed, to entertain the punters; They understood who they were and they understood the complexities of the plot, and that was enough to give that meaning to the audience too.

Costumes. I had a chuckle when Julius Caesar was recently performed in the USA and JC was dressed as Donald Trump causing some violent reactions from DT supporters. No such reactions or happenings here but it shows that, as with many of WS’s plays, period costume is not always necessary and it can be done in dress that is far removed from its time. LLL was no exception and the men in golf apparel and the ladies in Hen Weekend dresses was a fantastic decision. For a start it made it so much easier to provide costumes – believe me, making period costume is a specialism in itself and is a total distraction for the director, involving so many more people in the play – but, visually, it also made the play accessible for the audience from the very start. Tick.

Accents. Gone was the received pronunciation you often get with Shakespeare (who was a Brummie so was unlikely to sound like that anyway) and it was replaced with English regional accents. Oh, and a Spanish bloke with a great spanish accent, Don what-his-name. From what I hear this chap went to spanish pronunciation lessons. DED-EEE-CATION – Another tick.
The fun. The cast, genuinely looked like they were enjoying the play – by that I mean the jokes, the humour and the plot twists that was part of the story. The enthusiasm – and stupidity – by which the men were trying to convince the ladies of their genuine love was so funny, showing how little men have changed in over 400 years. The cunning of the ladies to confuse and fool the men still translates perfectly over 400 odd years later too. I think we all understood that.

The Music. I always loved watching RSC at the Globe use modern music to start and finish their plays, especially with the dancing at the end. It also reminded me of the film “A Knight’s Tale” which also had modern dance and music which just made you enjoy it more. This was no exception. Richard Pink, LLL director, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music and his ability to choose a song to start, finish or stick in the middle of a scene is second to none (get a job on the next Tarantino movie RP!). The best I could manage would be to hum a tune but I would fail miserably remembering what the song was called or who sang it.

So, we end up with a finale, when the men and women are all coupled up, everything has worked out fine but – oh no! – Princess’s father has died, and it’s all quite sad. There IS morose a song at the end of LLL, but, instead, this was a perfect opportunity for a bit of Coldplay and a dance instead, right? Of course – We all clap, we love it, we’ve been entertained, we’ve been part of it, it’s finished the play off and everyone gets their money’s worth: all £5.50 worth. Read it again: Five parnds fifty. A steal. Tick again.

What does £5.50 buy you these day. A pint? Barely. A movie ticket? Noooo. A theatre ticket – not a chance. A standing place in the RSC Globe yard – absolutely. But, then again, why would you because you can’t eat your picnic, drink your wine, nor enjoy Shakespeare in the beautiful Monastery Gardens. Tick – Tick – Tick.

Maybe, now, you’ll understand why I travelled all the way from India to see this play (aside from seeing the surprise on everybody’s faces – I told nobody I was going!). Roll on next year!

A review from John Bell

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