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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Shakespeare's Globe

By Michael Leech

  Ph: John Haynes

Ever a difficult play, Love's Labour's Lost challenges directors and actors alike. The reason? The comedy dates from a brief period near the end of the 16th century (1594-5) when word play was a much- favored fashion for literary London. The most elaborate flurries of verbal art resulted in that famous 'nest of singing birds'. Not only in poetry. It seems conversation was laced with it, yet this play is one of very few that have reflected the vogue and left a mark. It comes as Shakespeare first emerges he obliged aristocratic patrons with this light airy piece to please new tastes.

Love's Labour's Lost does need careful cutting, otherwise it would be tedious: with its many unrecognized allusions (like any fashion it doesn't last)it must have a delicate sophisticated touch. It is a souffle and such things are not easy to create whether in the kitchen or onstage at the open-air Globe.

The four central male characters, in a company padded with pedants, a world-weary philosopher, a raunchy clown and a country girl, have elected to quit town life for a quiet contemplative country exile. In fact, they have sworn to study, under the stern eye of their King, for three years, during which, no woman shall come within a mile of them. Alas, it does not last- almost at once they are swayed by the arrival of the Princess of France with three of her ladies. Scholarly life is abruptly shattered: Love takes command. Wit and poetry dance onto the rural scene, only cut short at the end by news being brought to the Princess of the death of her father.

Love's Labour's Lost may seem frothy, yet it anticipates the verbal play of later English comedies. It has a strong plot and intriguing characters. Staged by Dominic Dromgoole and a team of choreographer, composer, fencing master, etcetera, how does the Globe fare with this silken stuff?

Well, it turns out that they do it exceedingly well. A crowded audience was enchanted and got most of the jokes.

Importantly, it looks good too with a simple design of trees and leaves. And beguiling dresses for the women.

Some small complaints here- Moth should be a real boy, not a diminutive dark actress, perky though she is. The eccentric Spaniard marooned in England, as many would have been after the Armada's defeat, is portentous, yet not quite bizarre enough. The four suitors are good, though the bulky king is often hard put to keep up. Rosaline, with her free flowing spiked wit and black hair is intriguing. Dark means dangerous, though the other ladies in waiting should contrast her looks, not look like her.


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