Review: Love’s Labours Lost

Rose Aitchison 25 October 2017

‘That was excellent, wasn’t it?’ said the lady seated next to me, as we prepared to leave. At the time of writing, I am not as entirely convinced by Clara Van Wel’s modern reworking of Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Set in 1930s Cambridge and kicking off with a swinging version of Count Basie Orchestra’s Jumpin’ at the Woodside, the promising start to Shakespeare’s renowned comedy did not translate through the full play. The period setting was abandoned almost completely and rather callously – awkward interventions in the form of jazz standards or snazzy outfits from the era served as jarring reminders from time to time. Notably, references to the period were almost impossible to find within the acting itself – time became a murky confluence, fading into the background with no discernible features. The very purpose of modernising Shakespeare was sadly defeated.

Unfortunately, the play took far too long to inspire a sense of wonderment. The first half was sluggishly-paced and semi-incoherent, a fact noted by many others during the intermission. Although the second half was miles ahead in quality, this only served to highlight the evident flaws established early on. Uninspiring intonation and quality aside, it was peppered with small ‘bits’ meant to enhance the comic elements of the play – this was brilliantly picked up on in the second half, particularly when the four main actors made a bold attempt at imitating Muscovites. From the exaggerated beards to the uniformed fur hats, the choreography in this scene was akin to that seen in The Three Stooges  – except there are four. Better yet, Van Wel opts for a more physical form of comedy in the second half. This permitted the plot to reach its peak in a clever way, with a major scene featuring the supporting characters that worked to the advantage of the cast – they did not need dense dialogue to arouse raucous laughter from the audience.  A nice homage to the comic physicality of Shakespearean plays made this the most effective aspect of the production.

Outstanding performances include Joe Sefton as Berowne, Ania Magliano-Wright’s quirky Moth and Henry Wilkinson’s hyperbolic yet convincing portrayal of the sword-wielding Armado.

Overall, this is not the ideal play for Shakespeare purists. However, if you approach the performance with an open mind, you would perhaps enjoy the creative liberties this production takes. While watching this production certainly became more enjoyable as it progressed, I am unable to look past the near-abandonment of the swingin’ 1930s as the social setting, and the disconnect that this caused between aesthetic and content.