Owen Smith’s interpretation of Love’s Labour’s Lost presents a charmingly wacky world set in a the evidently bucolic country of Navarre. The challenge, as always with Shakespeare, in spite of the beautiful artistry of his prose and poetry, is ensuring that the audience is able to remain engaged and can enjoy the elegant dialogue and expertly crafted storylines. On this front, Smith and the entire cast have done very well. This particular interpretation of the piece, in a spirit true to the text, found its best humour in the reversal of traditional “roles.” For instance, that of the master and the squire.
The piece was begun with film-like music playing in the King Ferdinand and the three young men who had come to study with him. The dynamics between all four were, in my opinion, exactly right despite, arguably, defying the stereotypical, somewhat more rigid portrayals of the characters. Other than King Ferdinand, the three were more reminiscent of mischievous schoolboys than lords, however given the material of the play, this worked very well. Worthy of particular mention is Dom Rawson as Berowne who epitomised the spirit of the piece. Rawson’s playful, somewhat aloof performance was charming to watch. In addition, the chemistry between him and Rosaline (Frankie Shalom) was obvious.
Also worthy of mention is the Don Armado, played by the wonderfully enthusiastic Shaun Harper. The camp don was clearly enjoying himself on stage as much as we were enjoying watching him. There was one scene which more or less sums up the ridiculous and yet heartwarmingly funny character as he was singing a terrible rendition of some song or other whilst the rest of the cast sat by watching. Indeed, the entire piece was very musically oriented with most of the songs and performance being jarringly painful to hear. However one rather gets the impression that this is deliberate. They also used music to interconnect one scene to another which, whilst probably better than silence, often went on a little bit too long and felt like it interrupted the flow of the piece at times.
It’s also worth mentioning that at the beginning of the piece the director informed us that one of the cast members had unfortunately been injured and was being stood in for by someone outside of the cast. Such was the cohesion of the piece, however, that I didn’t even actually notice who it was that had been replaced until more than half way through. Much of the humour was fairly straight-forward and true to the text, with the odd bit of slapstick and physical comedy (provided mostly by the adorable Joe Fraser as Dull the Constable). Although the piece wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, it was exactly what the play is supposed to be: good fun.