Love’s Labour’s Lost
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Christopher Luscombe
Designed by Simon Higlett
Music by Nigel Hess
The Royal Shakespeare Company
Chichester Festival Theatre
Monday 17th October 2.30 pm
This production is a revival of the 2014 / 2015 production, reviewed elsewhere on this blog.
bold indicates a change from the 2014 RSC Stratford production.
THE COURT OF NAVARRE
Sam Alexander – King of Navarre
Edward Bennett – Berowne
William Belchambers – Longaville
Tunji Kasim – Dumaine
John Hodgkinson – Don Armado, a Spanish Traveller
THE FRENCH COURT
Leah Whitaker – Princess of France
Lisa Dillon – Rosaline
Rebecca Collingwood – Katharine
Paige Carter – Maria
Jamie Newall – Lord Boyet, Equerry to the princess
Roderick Smith – Marcadé – an officer
Steven Pacey – Holofernes, a schoolmaster
John Arthur – Sir Nathaniel, a curate
Chris McCalphy – Dull, a police constable
DOMESTICS AND ESTATE WORKERS
Nick Haverson – Costard, a gardener
Emma Manton – Jaquenetta, a dairymaid
Peter McGovern – Moth, a hall boy
Nick Harris – Butler
Roderick Smith – Gatekeeper 1
Anna Wheatley – Housemaid
Chris Nayak – Footman
Harry Waller – Gatekeeper 2
SEE ALSO THE 2014 REVIEW. Some of this repeats, but the other points in the 2014 review still hold true.
Edward Bennett & Lisa Dillon
Not only was this the best production of 2014, that production is set in cement on an RSC DVD and Blu-Ray. The revival at Chichester is a brilliant idea, and retains most of the cast. The major advertised change is that Lisa Dillon replaces Michelle Terry as Rosaline and Beatrice. As we’d book a play just to see Lisa Dillon, this was fine for us. One great actress replacing another great actress. Looking at the other changes, they probably felt they could replace the other women more easily, as they often work in a group of three.
This Monday was one of a few special arranged performances where you could see the play paired with Much Ado About Nothing with the same cast in the same day. Love’s Labour’s Lost takes place in 1914, just before World War One, and Much Ado About Nothing takes place in 1918, the Christmas just after the war ended. They share a set. At Stratford two years ago they annoyed some scholars by titling the second play Love’s Labour’s Won, claiming that Much Ado About Nothing was that lost play. This year they’ve reversed the brackets and put Much Ado About Nothing as the main title.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of only four (He cheats and counts Henry IV Parts I and II as one play) Shakespeare plays in Michael Billington’s The 101 Greatest Plays and to me a surprising inclusion. He praises the text most highly. I’d counter that what Love’s Labour’s Lost has in literary merit, Much Ado surpasses in dramatic merit. He also notes that since the idea first struck in the Stratford Ontario Festival in 1978, this is the fourth major production set in 1914, ending with the men and women being separated “for a year.”
L to R: The four noblemen: Dumaine (Tunji Kasim), Berowne (Edward Bennett), Longeville (William Bellchambers), The King (Sam Alexander)
It’s unusual for Shakespeare in having four major male roles paired with four major female roles, plus Jacquetta is a short but important role. The King of Navarre and his three friends decide to vow to eschew the company of women for three years, in which they will fast frequently and study. Berowne (Edward Bennett) doubts their ability to keep to this from the start, as well as discussing the rationale.
Here come the girls: Rosaline (Lisa Dillon), The Princess (Leah Whittaker), Maria (Paige Carter), Katherine (Rebecca Collingwood)
The Princess of France turns up on a diplomatic visit, with three comely companions. Each of the males falls for one of the females and decides to break his vow. We quickly line up Berowne and Rosaline as the central couple in this. The subplot concerns two people being in love with Jacquetta a simple but pert country girl. One is the clown, Costard, a gardener. The other is a pompous Spaniard with mangled English, Don Armado. Add in misdirected letters, and a funny schoolmaster and funny priest. The notable play-within-a-play is when the non-noble characters set up for a masque, or entertainment for the nobles, based on “The Nine Worthies” of history. In Shakespeare terms, it’s not heavily plotted, and that clarity may be a major virtue./ I’ve tried explaining the plots of As You Like It, Twelfth Night or All’s well That Ends Well in simple terms many times. It’s hard work. Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of the easiest.
If you want back story, the recent play Dedication explores the relationship of Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton at the time of writing Love’s Labour’s Lost. The Earl had also avoided the company of women and especially marriage, though not for reasons of chastity and the avoidance of sexual intercourse. It was just the heterosexual variety he avoided. There is a theory that the play was written with an argument for getting married. The other back story is that the professional players were no doubt getting annoyed by the popularity of amateur masques at noble gatherings, which probably lost them a few private bookings. The Nine Worthies section is a response.
This is a second viewing, two years after the first which had impressed me so much. My conclusion? It’s even better now. I wish I had a sixth star to award.
I had not noted how good Nigel Hess’s musical score was before. He stays in period, mixing patriotic, popular and Ivor Novello styles. The music soars. Moth (Peter McGovern) is a “hall boy” but seems assigned to Don Armando. He is there to sing. After his solo piece there was sustained applause. The musical pieces got so much applause that it was like being at a musical briefly. Chichester Festival Theatre IS a venue used to big musicals. All the music and singing sounded better than at the RSC. It is a combination, I suspect, of a much better hall acoustic for music, plus better amplification. Mood music runs under sections. This is most confusing to Costard (Nick Haverson) who keeps wondering where it’s coming from.
Berowne (Edward Bennett) and Rosaline (Lisa Dillon)
Lisa Dillon replaces Michelle Terry. What I liked (even more so in Much Ado About Nothing) is how each of them brought their own personalities into the part. It’s not a replacement at all. It’s recasting throwing different light. As before, Edward Bennett is the star male role, but Nick Haverson may be the best Shakespeare fool I’ve seen. Sam Alexander’s King of Navarre reminded me of how good it was two years ago. Steven Pacey comes in as the minor role of Holofernes, the pedantic schoolmaster, but this is an example of how you cross cast in a paired production … his major role is Leonato in the second play. I also noted that Chris Nayak, so important as Borachio in the other play, has to be just a wordless “footman” in this, but shines in the second.
The locals: L to R: Holofernes (Steven Pacey), Costard (Nick Haverson), P.C. Dull (Chris McAlphy), Moth (Peter McGovern), Sir Nathaniel, a curate (John Arthur). Note garden fence has poppies along it.
Don Armando (John Hodgkinson) is the courtly comic role to contrast with Costard’s rustic comic role … both are after the favours of Jacquetta (Emma Manton). The Spaniard must have been a great figure to mock, just a few years after the Armada. He mangles everything. “Excrement” turns out to be moustache, “Peace on you …” becomes “Piss on you” and “artistes” becomes Ass Tits. Lovely performance, and such a contrast when he plays the serious straight Don Pedro in the second play. The only recognisable connection is the title “Don.”
As last time, Jamie Newell’s equerry to the Princess of France was delightfully pompous and precise.
Up On The Roof: L ro R: Berowne, Dumaine, Longfellow, The King
The scene on the roof of the palace, where each of the four men come up to practise their love poems, is a masterclass in blocking and direction and comedy business by Christopher Luscombe, as well as a surprising and innovative piece of set design. I’m avoiding spoilers but just watch Dumaine (Tunji Kasim) and his teddy bear. The delivery of the letter by Costard and Jacquetta to the roof ends with a hilarious piece of sound effect work. This great scene ends the first part.
There is the “masked confusion” scene, obligatory in both plays. Usually you have to suspend disbelief in Shakespeare and accept that a small gold eye mask renders you totally anonymous in spite of your skin colour, hair style, beard (if male) and clothing. The four noblemen here come disguised as Muscovites (they add a Russians? to the text for those poor on history), and so totally disguised and performing a fine Cossack dance to balalaika.
End of the operetta: Costard centre as Pompey The Great
The “Nine worthies” masque would have delighted Shakespeare I’m sure. Nigel Hess has created this mini-operetta, but also lampooned masques as much as the original players would have dreamt of doing. Costard is Pompey in a boat with fake legs on deck, and the others doing cloth waves and clouds around him. The Reverend Sir Nathaniel has to do Alexander The Great and completely fumbles it, and then is allowed to try again. Moth has to be Hercules wrestling a snake.
The ending comes in the midst of the free for all fight that has ensued from the chaos of the operetta. Marcadé arrives with the news. The King of France is dead. The women are in mourning. We were on the verge of everyone getting together in a happy ending, but no. Everything has to be put on hold. The ending is musical from the assembled cast, apart from our four noble swains. They march on and face the chorus, dressed in World War One military uniforms. It’s over. In many versions that would be a puzzling non-ending. In Christopher Luscombe’s triumphant production it setys up our second play.
(Repeated in Much Ado Abut Nothing review)
Chichester describes its stage as thrust in the programme. It has most of the virtues of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST), though the diagonal entrances from the house are up steps so less “taken at a run.’ The RST thrust is a rectangle with the short side at the inner stage end. Chichester is not quite a semi circle. It’s as fluid, though not so intimate. However the seats are far more comfortable and there are no “restricted view” pillars nor “restricted legroom.” It changes the play somewhat. We had good seats for both, but because the travel of the inner stage out onto the thrust ends up further back at the RST, some scenes felt closer at Chichester, allowing the fine detail of the set to shine. The proximity to the front was very noticeable in the roof scene (and welcome). Even the edge of the stage is lined with Elizabethan-style brick to match the towers. On the other hand, Chichester is lower, so the tower roofs touch the ceiling and are not so framed by blue sky as at the RST.
FOR THE FUTURE …
This production goes to Manchester Opera House, then to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket for a long London run. It’s where the RSC’s Wolf Hall ended up. As the RSC also uses the Barbican, the use of Chichester’s stage and Manchester is so welcome in this country of London-centric theatre. It worked too … both houses were virtually full, and on a Monday, and it’s a larger audience than the RST in the most comfortable theatre of the lot. It slotted in at the end of the main Festival Theatre Season. Let’s hope the same idea will continue with other RSC productions.
A combined programme for the two plays is economic. While I don’t need a synopsis of these two plays, the RSC’s very short clear synopses are a great feature of all RSC programmes. Why have they dropped them here?
It’s still five star.
LINKS TO REVIEWS ON THIS SITE:
All of the cast, except Leah Whittaker,are in Much Ado About Nothing, Chichester 2016
Watership Down, 2016
The Rehearsal, by Jean Anouilh, Chichester Minerva Theatre
Love’s Labour’s Lost– RSC 2014 (Berowne)
Love’s Labour’s Won RSC 2014 (Benedick)
The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Bath Theatre Roya