Love’s Labour’s Lost Understudies – October 2014

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Guy Unsworth

Company: RSC Understudies

Venue: RST

Date: Friday 24th October 2014

Our seats were much better for this performance – plum in the middle of the front stalls. Our view was excellent, and with the extra fun generated by the constraints of the Understudy run, this was a wonderful afternoon in the theatre. Nothing much to add to the lengthy description of the set in my previous notes, except that I spotted a telescope on a stand in the library, near the door back right. I also noticed a piece of paper attached to the wall beside the right tower door, and assumed it was the proclamation mentioned in the play. It disappeared later – didn’t see it being removed.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost – October 2014

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Christopher Luscombe

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 23rd October 2014

I was concerned during the early scenes of this performance that I wouldn’t enjoy myself half as much as I had for the previous RSC production (starring David Tennant, and, incidentally, with Edward Bennett as the King and Sam Alexander as Dumaine – both are promoted this time around). We sat by the left walkway a few rows back, and my sightlines were poor; the stage design and blocking meant that I had a great view of several actors’ backs and saw little of the early reactions and exchanges. Don Armado chose to lie down a lot on one or other of the various sofas, so it was hard to see his facial expressions, and the only glimpse I had of Jaquenetta’s face in her first scene was when she turned to give a flirtatious wave ‘goodbye’ to Costard. The dialogue wasn’t as clear as I would have liked either, so I was feeling a bit flat until about half-way through. After that, the comedy built beautifully and I was laughing loud and often until near the end of the evening when the tears started to come as well – more on that later.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost – November 2008


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Gregory Doran

Courtyard Theatre

Wednesday 5th November 2008

There were some physical problems for me tonight. I had a small coughing fit this afternoon, similar to last year’s ones, and it seemed like it might start up again tonight, but I managed to control it, keep the coughs to between scenes, and drank lots of water to help things. Unfortunately, drinking lots of water has an inevitable consequence, and so I had to leave after the French ladies head off to hunt the deer, and just as Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel are arriving. I was let back in during that scene, so I didn’t miss too much, and if anything I had a better seat, round the other side. I was able to enjoy the rest of the play up to the interval and then rejoin Steve; hooray for the helpfulness of the RSC staff. I managed the second half without too much coughing, though I did have to pay another visit once the play finished, so my mind wasn’t fully on the performance. I did enjoy it, but I did take longer to get involved as I wasn’t seeing as much of the action in the opening scene as I would have liked (and probably sulking as a result). I saw some things better though, such as the way the lovers, apart from Berowne and Rosaline, were looking in each others’ eyes during the final song.

All the performances have come on since our first viewing, with a lot more detail everywhere. Don Armado was not quite so over the top, more controlled, and funnier. The men seemed to be less “silly” but still fun, the girls were more giggly, but still more mature than the boys. I forgot to mention last time about Berowne throwing his hat at the tree in the first scene – still haven’t seen him make it. [According to Edward Bennett, he’s managed it twice, and completely corpsed when he did.] He chatted up a woman on other side of the stage tonight. I was also reminded that the Mummers come on at the start of the second half, and a bear comes on with the Russians, but goes off in disgust when the women won’t pay him any attention. So, apart from a few distractions and some restrictions to our viewing, it was another excellent performance.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at

Love’s Labour’s Lost – October 2008 (3)

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Peter Hall

Venue: Rose Theatre, Kingston

Date: Thursday 30th October 2008

Having recently seen the RSC production of this play, as well as the understudy performance to refresh our memories, I was concerned that I would not be able to set my prejudices aside and give this production the attention it deserved. I didn’t have to worry for long. Although this was almost a complete mirror image of the RSC version, I found myself enjoying it well before the end of the first scene.

The set was in complete contrast for a start. The whole width and depth of the stage was being used, and in a stark, simple way. The floor was all wood strips, there were metal balcony railings and two metal ladders, and there was a pair of wrought iron gates in the centre, between two pillars. Somewhat like those ranch gates they used to have in westerns – nothing for miles around, and a few poles forming a gate for visitors to ride through. Bizarre in that setting, but here it worked. There was also a reading desk to the right hand side of the stage.

When the king arrived with his three henchmen, I nearly giggled. The Elizabethan costume in the RSC production worked very well. Here, in this sparse environment, it looked a little silly. All the men wore black – more of a Jacobean influence, I think. The hats were also humorous, so I was finding it a bit difficult to give my all for the beginning section, though they carried it off well enough. In fact, I would say the clarity of speech in this production far exceeded that in the RSC’s version. Admittedly I had the benefit of seeing the play twice before today, and checking the text as I did these notes, so I was far more familiar with the dialogue than usual, but even so the lines came across very clearly here, and I got a lot more out of some of the relatively opaque sections.

The biggest contrast, and the one I want to get out of the way first, was between the Berownes. David Tennant is tall, agile, and very expressive with both his face and body. Finbar Lynch is short, tends not to move much if he can avoid it, and his range of facial expressions is not much greater than Mr Potato Face. (I mean this in a nice way, honest.) Both can deliver a line very well, though, and given the nature of this play, that’s just as well. So, while the RSC version goes for almost over the top physical manifestations of the text’s jokes, this production settles for getting the text across, and letting the audience do their bit. Both ways are fine (though the attentive reader will deduce my preferences from my ratings).

I think there was more of the text used in this production, though as I heard more of it I can’t be sure which were bits I just missed in the other performances. The staging was very straightforward, with the reading desk brought on and off as required, and benches and stools provided for the nobility to rest their legs. For such a big, empty space, they managed to fill it with people and action very well, and used it to the full. There were extra attendants, but they didn’t come on that often, so it was mainly the known characters.

Peter Bowles as Don Armado deserves a special mention for keeping his character within the bounds of reason and decency, and not using a ridiculous accent to get his laughs. That’s partly why I understood a lot more of his dialogue throughout. Jaquenetta’s “dish-clout” he actually receives from her when he’s telling her he’ll meet her in the lodge. Ella Smith has an embonpoint that could win gold medals, and when she teases an end of cloth out from between two fleshy mounds, what can the poor man do but take it gratefully and keep it next to his heart?

Moth was played by Kevin Trainor, an older actor than usual, but it helped with the delivery of his lines. He came across as a bit camp, but that may have been to indicate his youth, and the wit was very well conveyed. He had a good partner in Costard, played by Greg Haiste, who was all grins and lolloping cheerfulness. Nothing could get him down, and he worked a very nice double act with Moth at times.

Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel were different again. Both were cleanly dressed (this was a much more hygienic production all round), and the schoolmaster’s lewdness was not remarked on at all. His pedantry and stupidity came across beautifully, though, and I finally got the section where he complains about Don Armado’s pronunciation of certain words, getting them completely wrong himself. Like pronouncing the “b” in “debt”. William Chubb did this all wonderfully well, helped by Paul Bentall as Sir Nathaniel, the well-meaning but easily led curate. Peter Gordon as Dull was fine, and we all enjoyed his line about not understanding a word that had been said, even though I actually found I had understood most of it.

Rachel Pickup was lively and intelligent as the princess, and Susie Trayling was a fine Rosaline, with plenty of wit and common sense. Again, I understood much more of the banter and raillery amongst the Frenchwomen than I had before. At least one, Katherine (Sally Scott) knows how these games of love can damage the human heart –  her sister died from Cupid’s attentions. Boyet, played by Michael Mears, was good, though perhaps not my favourite of the current crop.

The king (Dan Fredenburgh) and his men were also fine; not as well differentiated as I’ve seen, but still enjoyable. The RSC’s version makes the men very immature, and so the women seem less grown up as a result. Here the men are simply being silly, but are still men worthy of being considered as suitors, so that the women seem more mature as well. The overall effect was of a more sophisticated version of the play, relying more on the language and characters to get the humour across, and they did it very well. I’m hopeful the Rose can keep up this sort of standard with its next productions.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at

Love’s Labour’s Lost – October 2008 (2)


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Cressida Brown

Company: RSC Understudies

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Tuesday 21st October 2008

This public understudies performance started in much the same way as the regular performance, with Dumaine/Longaville arriving about ten minutes before the nominal curtain-up, and Berowne putting in an appearance with a few minutes to go for his regular snooze. But then we had the pleasure of an introductory comment or two from the director, Cressida Brown (with a name like that, she had to do something involved with Shakespeare). She told us the usual stuff about why they do public understudies performances, and how little time they had had to rehearse for this one, as it’s the last production of the three that this company are doing. She warned us that some of the understudies were doubling up, such as David Ajala playing both Dumaine and Longaville, so occasionally characters would be talking to themselves on stage. She mentioned some of the knock-on effects of an actor being hors de combat, as it were, and in general gave us a good warm up for the main action.

Tom Davey was now playing the king of Navarre (Longaville in the regular cast), and did a fine job, though of course he hadn’t had the time to work up as much of the comic business as the original. David Ajala (Lord) did a fantastic job as both Dumaine and Longaville, managing to clearly differentiate both characters – Longaville stiff and formal (and with a hat), and Dumaine more soft and cuddly, and bareheaded. There was a lot of humour in the way he swapped between the roles at times, especially when he had to run round the back of the auditorium to make another entrance, even getting a laugh and applause for that alone. Robert Curtis (Forester) as Berowne was less expressive, but very clear on the text, and he seemed to relax into the part more in the second half, as a number of them did.

Keith Osborn (Marcadé) played Dull, and was fine, but Ryan Gage (Lord) as Costard was, if anything, better than the original. His lines came across more clearly, his comic business was clearer, and he was generally more expressive in the part. I could see him having a long career playing Shakespearean clowns, as well as other comedy. Don Armado was played by Samuel Dutton, the puppeteer from Little Angel, who gave a splendid performance, clearly distinguished from Joe Dixon’s, and almost as entertaining. Instead of size and bluster, he gave us pretentiousness and a clear delivery of the lines. He didn’t have a purple costume – sombre black was all the costume department could come up with – so he had to put all the braggadocio into the performance, which he did very well. Moth was played by Kathryn Drysdale, one of the princess’s women normally, and she did a very good job. I’m sure I got more of the page’s wit partly because I’d seen this production before, but her performance certainly helped.

The princess was played by Natalie Walter, the other of the princess’s women, and she did a fine job as well, coming across as more flirty and less serious than Mariah Gale. Andrea Harris (Lady) doubled Rosaline and Jaquenetta, which meant that Jaquenetta didn’t appear in the final scene, two months gone, but that didn’t affect the performance. Her Jaquenetta was more explicit when churning the milk, but otherwise was much as before, while her Rosaline was still pretty feisty, and a good match for Berowne. Riann Steele (Jaquenetta) played both of the princess’s ladies – Katherine and Maria – and also managed to get two different personalities across, one of which was remarkably like Natalie Walter’s performance. Fortunately, she didn’t have to run round the theatre to swap roles, but we still enjoyed and appreciated the changeovers. Boyet was played by Sam Alexander, normally Dumaine, and he also did an excellent job for such little rehearsal, with less comic business, but plenty of clarity in his speech.

The double act of Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel was played by Roderick Smith and Ewen Cummins (Dull) respectively, and they both did a decent job, especially as Worthies. David Tennant also doubled up today, playing both the Forester, as advertised, and also Marcadé, who was due to be played by Joe Dixon. Nina Sosanya made a brief appearance as a lady(?) in breeches, who sat on the swing when the ladies were gathering for the second half scene with the presents, and various stage crew filled in as stool carriers, etc.

This was a good fun performance. OK, we weren’t expecting too much, as we knew there were going to be limitations given the circumstances, but the standard of performance was so high, and the audience was so willing to enjoy themselves, that the afternoon passed very quickly and very enjoyably. I also got the chance to correct some of my mistakes in my earlier notes, as I was reminded of how things are actually done in this production.

Apart from the performances themselves, I didn’t notice too many changes from the regular cast. I thought the ladies didn’t join in the teasing of Don Armado this time –  they seemed to be more concerned to stop the blokes throwing this bloody napkin around. I realised for the first time that someone has a line which echoes the “l’envoy” that Moth gives to Don Armado’s original motto. They make some comment about the men being four, and Moth had added a line to the motto about the goose making four. I also remembered what fun it was during the Russian scene, when the king and his men huddle together after each unexpected response from the woman they believe to be the princess. The way they confer to come up with a group answer was very amusing, and just as funny even when there were only three present.

Afterwards there was a talk from the director of the understudies run, Cressida Brown. We learned that some actors prefer not to know what the main actor playing the part is doing, while others are happy to pinch as much as they can, especially when it’s a small part. She’d chosen this production for the public understudies performance, as it had the least time to prepare, and she wanted to give the hard-working cast a carrot to look forward to. The costume department couldn’t stretch to a full re-working for this production, so they had to improvise as much as possible, though for the other productions the understudies have the full kit. She had to snatch what time she could with the actors, as they were so busy with other things, but she found she could arrange time with one actor or small group here and there, and so it all came together.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon, and a lovely way to round it off.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at

Love’s Labour’s Lost – October 2008


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Gregory Doran

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Tuesday 7th October 2008

Wow! Another production where we had to talk down our expectations to avoid disappointment, only to have all expectations completely blown away by a stunning production. Ignore the critics, this performance made almost every part of the dialogue intelligible, which is a major accomplishment.

As an appetiser to the main course, we went to a pre-show director’s talk. Greg Doran was as interesting as usual, and we learned a great deal about the production, including the slightly unsavoury information that a “dish clout” was a reference to a sanitary towel in Shakespeare’s day. In fact, this play is apparently full of the filthiest language and references of all the canon, which came as a surprise to me, as Will has never seemed shy of making a coarse or crude joke in most of his other work.

Apart from the filth, there’s a scene where Don Armado, Moth and Costard do some fancy stuff with language, and in the rehearsal process they realised that they were playing with the rhythms of speech, so it seemed natural to use rap as the modern equivalent. When we saw the scene, I have to say it worked well for me, although if anything it was on the short side to get the point across fully. The political position of Navarre within France, and the actual existence of several of the characters in the records of a battle, was touched on, although I’ve forgotten some of the details now.

The choice of Nina Sosanya was also mentioned, as there are many references to Rosaline’s complexion and colour in the text, and it was felt that only a black actress could really carry this part off. There was also a fair bit of information about the different levels of maturity of the men and the women, with the women coming out on top. The choice of costumes was also mentioned –  this production has gone for Elizabethan, and very nice it looks too.

Now for the production itself. The set was bare except for the (almost inevitable) mirrored back wall and a massive tree, which spread its roots and branches wide across the stage towards the back. Long strands of vari-coloured glass leaves (more likely to be Perspex?) hung down over the stage, looking gorgeous, especially as we’d seen so much autumnal beauty on the drive up. The longer strands were raised at the beginning to allow the actors to get on the stage – why were they hung so low in the first place? – and it all looked beautiful. The bulk of both the French and Navarre courts were dressed in off-white, but Berowne and Rosaline wore significantly different clothes. Berowne was in fetching light blue doublet and hose, while the material of Rosaline’s dress had a lovely multi-coloured floral pattern on a deep blue background, which made the flowers glow when the light caught them. It was clear these were two outsiders, emphasised by David Tennant’s use of his native accent and the casting of Nina Sosanya as mentioned above.

The actors for the opening scene – the king’s would-be fellow students –  arrived gradually before the actual start. Dumaine arrived first with a guitar or lute, and sat tuning and strumming for a bit, then Longaville joined him, and started nibbling at the remnants of their picnic which were strewn all over the blanket. Berowne also turned up ahead of time, but wasn’t so keen for company, so he just lay down to one side with his hat over his face and took a short nap. This allowed the king to burst onto the scene and wake him up by dropping the chest he was carrying, and almost bellowing “Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives…”, etc. (Yes, that is the opening line, and yes, I did have to look it up.) It was an excellent speech, which got across the braggadocio of the king and at least two of his lords. Berowne looked distinctly unimpressed by it all, and remarkably keen to ditch all the tough bits of the three years’ abstinence (fasting, no women, very little sleep, etc.), but he agrees to it at long last, and in this production they actually do sign a piece of paper.

Naturally, they’re all shocked to remember that the King of France’s daughter is arriving that very day to speak with the king, and given that, if he did so, he would have to “endure such public shame as the rest of the court can possibly devise”, the king grabs the quill back sharpish, and amends the article so he can get away with doing his kingly duty unscathed. The signed declaration is then pinned to the tree.

Dull arrives with Costard and a letter from Don Armado concerning Costard’s illicit canoodling with Jaquenetta. Dull, played by Ewen Cummins, was stolid and slow. An older Dull than some, he smoked a pipe, and was a noticeable presence, even though he spoke little. His later comment about not understanding a word of what was said got a good laugh, especially as the audience had been inundated with Latin and flowery prose for a good while before that.

The king and his cronies read out Don Armado’s preposterously worded letter with every sign of appreciation. They’re clearly a bunch of youthful, vigorous fops, with hardly a brain cell between them, and that one belonging to Berowne. The king shows a bit of anger with Costard when he ticks him off, which sets him up nicely for his own comeuppance later on.

Having heard his prose style, we now see the man and his page. Joe Dixon plays Don Armado, with Zoe Thorne as the page, Moth, and it’s a wonderfully comic pairing. She just about comes up to his waist, and has a cheeky impish face. With both of them dressed identically in lavish purple outfits, and pacing majestically onto the stage, page mimicking master, it was funny enough just seeing them. Then they got talking, and the dialogue became a bit difficult to follow, partly because Joe Dixon is using an extravagant Spanish accent for this role. However, the attitudes and responses still came across clearly. Moth was running rings round his master, who was in love with Jaquenetta.

At this point, Jaquenetta, Costard and Dull turn up, so Don Armado and Moth retreat to the tree. Jaquenetta is a busy girl – she has a milk churn with her, and sets it down so she can do a bit of churning. The way she plunged that handle up and down, and up and down, had more than Don Armado’s eyes bulging. He had to fan himself when he was talking to her, only it wasn’t his face that he was trying to cool down. After she leaves with Dull, and Costard and Moth have also left, Don Armado throws himself to the ground so he can kiss the patch of stage she walked over. This man is so far gone, he’s going to make the king and his men look sensible, and what would be the fun of that?

Now all we need is for the women to arrive, and so they do. The princess of France (she doesn’t appear to have a name) arrives with her servant, Boyet, and three of her women. While Boyet heads off to check what’s happening at court (they’ve heard of the king’s vow to avoid women for three years), the princess and her ladies discuss the other men who are with the king. All three ladies seem smitten with one or other of the king’s supporters, but the princess is unmoved. When the king himself arrives, she keeps her back to him, annoyed that she’s expected to stay out in the open instead of being given proper hospitality. It’s like being told to pitch a tent in Green Park instead of being invited into Buck House. They swap formalities for a short while, as the other men and women check each other out, and then the princess turns round, and bingo! They’re in love too.

While the king looks over a written note of the princess’s suit, Berowne tries to chat up Rosaline, and gets nowhere very fast. She’s not impressed, even though she seemed to fancy him, but these women know how to value themselves. Berowne may look a bit tasty, but she’s got to check out his other attributes (oh, do behave) before she can commit.

The king and princess aren’t able to resolve the issue of the return of Aquitaine immediately – they need some papers which are still in transit and will arrive tomorrow – so the king welcomes the princess and her entourage to the field, and heads off with his men. Despite the circumstances, the princess seems happier with her lodgings than she did earlier – I wonder what can have changed her mind? As she and her women retire to the tree, Boyet is summoned by each of the king’s follower’s to confirm what their eyes have already told them – the identity of each of the queen’s women. Shock, horror! These men are in love! And with the queen’s women! What will become of their vows now? They used the side and front entrances to the stage, with Dumaine and Longaville doing “psst” noises to attract Boyet’s attention, and Berowne snapping his fingers. Boyet, played by Mark Hadfield, did a masterful job of keeping a straight face during all this. I notice from my text that once the men have gone the ladies unmask, and this would make more sense of the questions. Here they were bare faced, and it made the men seem even stupider. So that’s alright then.

The next scene brings back Don Armado and his page. Don Armado is playing a guitar, and is so preoccupied with this and making a grand entrance, that he nearly walks into the long tree branch that sweeps across most of the stage. He steps neatly to one side, accompanied by Moth and our laughter, and continues to play. Moth has a small rattling instrument, and is clearly bored at having to play it every so often; he picks his nose while he’s waiting for his next turn. Don Armado sends Moth to fetch Costard, as he wants to use him as a postman, and on his arrival, with a nasty bruise on his shin, we get the rapping dialogue amongst Don Armado, Moth and Costard. This passed surprisingly quickly and pleasantly, and I even got some idea of what they were talking about – “l’envoy”, which, if I understand rightly, is, in effect, a punchline.

Don Armado gives Costard a letter to take to Jaquenetta, and a small amount of money for his trouble. Three farthings, in fact, which he refers to as a “remuneration”, although his accent turns the word inside out. Then Berowne turns up, and also gives Costard a letter, which he wants Costard to give to Rosaline. For this task, he pays Costard a “guerdon” (I’ve got nothing). The “guerdon” is apparently  a shilling, and Costard makes his feelings vis-à-vis “remuneration” and “gardon” very clear before he exits, leaving the stage to Berowne. This is his chance to win us over, to make us feel for his desperate plight, his lovesick suffering. So what does he do? He insults all the ladies present by comparing us to “a German clock, still a-repairing, ever out of frame…”. David Tennant picked one lady in the audience to address these scurrilous comments to, but we knew he meant all of us. Mind you, she’s the one that got the wink at the end.

Knowing that Costard isn’t the brightest chap, and that he has two love letters to give to two different women, we can see comic possibilities a mile off. The good news is that we don’t have to wait that long, as the next scene gives us the pleasure of seeing Costard deliver Don Armado’s letter to the princess, believing her to be the correct recipient of it. Actually, she snatches it out of his hand, planning to embarrass Rosaline. Boyet reads it out, and the women react in a more scornful way to Don Armado’s flowery prose. It’s a nice contrast with the men’s responses in the earlier scene, and tells us all we need to know about the two groups. Men dumb, women smart. After some more word play, all leave, and we get to meet Holofernes, a schoolmaster, and Sir Nathaniel, a curate, both older gentlemen, and both somewhat grubby in the costume department. Dull is with them.

The princess and her women had been hunting deer before the previous scene, and now Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel are discussing the killing of a deer in that hunt. There’s a lot of quibbling about the precise terms to be used, and we get the impression of Holofernes as a real pedant, not as learned or as wise as he likes to think he is, but full of self importance nonetheless. Sir Nathaniel is more reasonable, but easily led, and in the company of Holofernes, always likely to be led astray. Dull says little, but does come out with some good Malapropisms, such as mangling “allusion” into “collusion” and “pollusion”.

Costard and Jaquenetta turn up, as she needs someone to read her the letter that Costard has brought her. Oops. Sir Nathaniel reads it out and we can hear that it’s of a much better quality than Don Armado’s. Holofernes is scathing about it however, at least when he’s not ogling Jaquenetta. It’s clear that when he “teaches boys the horn-book”, he has extensive experience of the subject, at least in his dreams. Anyway, Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel realise that, as the letter has been sent by Berowne, he’s in breach of his vow, and send Jaquenetta to the king to hand it over. Holofernes then undertakes, over dinner, to explain to Sir Nathaniel why the verses were very poor.

Now comes Will’s second best comedic scene of all the plays (number one for me is the ring scene at the end of The Merchant Of Venice, in case you’re interested). One by one the King and his men, starting with Berowne, arrive on stage to present their attempts at love poetry to us. As each arrives, the one on stage hides, until Berowne (up the tree), the king (behind some tree branches that conveniently dropped lower), and Longaville (behind the tree) are watching Dumaine bring on a very large book. It’s so big, it can conceal the small guitar (or similar instrument) he’s using to practise his love song. We’ve already established he’s the musician of the group, and soon he’s strumming away and singing a pretty little ditty, which the others join in. Then we get the series of denouncements, first by Longaville, then the king, and finally by Berowne, with each guilty party looking suitably abashed by their discovery. Only Berowne rampages unchallenged, lashing the others with his tongue, until Jaquenetta arrives bearing a letter which he immediately recognises. He tries to run away, but the king stops that manoeuvre. However, when the king asks Berowne to read the letter out, he grabs it and, tearing it up, stuffs as much as he can into his mouth to destroy the evidence. They gather the remaining pieces together, and discover enough damning evidence from those few fragments to force a confession from Berowne that he, too, is in love. Then follows some banter about Berowne’s love which contains a lot of the descriptions of Rosaline that led Greg Doran to cast a black actress in the part.

Although the railing has been good fun, now the lovers turn their attention to the serious business of how to get out of their vows. (Note that the option of keeping their vows doesn’t actually occur to them.) It’s Berowne’s job, as keeper of their collective brain cell, to resolve this problem, so the others leave the stage to him as they sit down across the front of it to hear his weighty verdict. In truth, it’s all flim-flam, but it’s what they want to hear, so he gets away with it. And as we want to see what they get up to next in pursuit of their loves, we’re happy too. Interval.

The second half starts with Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel after dinner, and very pleased with themselves, meeting up with Don Armado and his flotilla of Moth and Dull. Don Armado has been sent to arrange some entertainment for the visiting princess, and they decide to present the Nine Worthies later that day. The fun in this scene is firstly in the preposterous language, with Don Armado informing the somewhat horrified schoolmaster that the prince often played with his “excrement” with his fingers (meaning his moustaches), and secondly in the over-the-top performance of Joe Dixon as Don Armado. Again, I missed some of the language, but not much, and I found this scene much more entertaining than usual.

Now we get to see the princess and her entourage again. They’re sitting around on cushions, and checking out the gifts sent to them by the king and the other men. They compare notes, and the men don’t do too well out of it. Then Boyet arrives to inform them that he’s overheard the king and his crew planning a secret visit to the women they adore. Instead of turning up as themselves, they plan to arrive disguised as Russians. Boyet can hardly get the story out, he’s laughing so much. The princess decides they’ll play a trick themselves, and gets the women to swap gifts and hide their faces, which they do by lifting their skirts over their heads, like massive hoods. They certainly manage to conceal themselves, although it looks a bit cumbersome, and I wasn’t sure that the gifts were actually visible.

The men are dressed in Russian garb of Elizabethan times (apparently), and look absolutely ridiculous, with bulky coats and long beards. After a hilarious mock Russian dance routine that looked more like something the less gifted contestants on The Generation Game would do, they try to find the lady of their dreams by checking out the gifts they’ve sent, and of course Rosaline takes the lead, as she’s playing the princess. The wooing done, the Russians leave, and the women swap favours again, so that the men, returning without their disguises, will be fooled all the more.

When the men do turn up, the women make fun of them, as expected, and then Costard arrives to ask whether the Three Worthies can come on or not. They agree, and so the nobles take their seats to enjoy the pageant. Pompey does alright, but Alexander has a bad time of it, drying completely and having to be escorted off, and then Moth and Holofernes arrive as Judas Maccabeus and a young Hercules. Moth does the serpent strangling just fine, and wisely gets off stage before the heckling of Judas really gets into its stride. This is very like the heckling towards the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but here the men are seen as unpleasant, and the women are clearly not happy with their behaviour, although they do join in the teasing of Don Armado a short while later. He turns up as Hector, and is being hectored by the men, when Costard informs the company that Jaquenetta is pregnant, by Don Armado. When Costard challenges him, he refuses to remove his jacket as he has no shirt on, but he does have the “dish-clout” of Jaquenetta’s under his jacket, and this the men remove and start throwing around, with the women joining in.

This is becoming very unpleasant, and then the messenger from the French court arrives with the news of the King of France’s death, and the mood changes completely. The men are keen to get the ladies’ agreement to marriage before they head off, but the women are too smart for that. Once the new queen has set a task for her would-be husband, the others follow suit, and so the attempted wooing has been unsuccessful for this time. The play ends with a song, in praise of the owl and the cuckoo, sung by the Three Worthies cast, and then all leave the stage. Only Berowne and Rosaline linger on the two walkways, and see the owl flying around the stage – it’s a puppet worked by Samuel Dutton of Little Angel. It’s a haunting way to end this production. The play has such a strange change of mood at the end, and this finale sums it up perfectly, while allowing for the possibility that these lovers will get together after a year has passed. Or not, as the case may be.

This play is all about the language, and this production actually makes a lot of it understandable, which is no mean feat. The recognition of crudity in the language is not overdone, although the tampon tossing incident may not be to everyone’s taste, but the real joy is in the way the characters are brought to life and made entertaining while spouting some of the most difficult dialogue Will could devise, sonnets included. It’s a real treat, and we’re seeing it again (yippee!). Life is good.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at

Love’s Labour’s Lost – September 2007


By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Dominic Dromgoole

Venue: Globe Theatre

Date: Friday 14th September 2007

I was really worried after the opening scenes of this performance. I like this play, yet I was finding it incredibly dull, and wondering if I wanted to stay for the rest of it. The opening scene had raised some laughs from the groundlings, over facial expressions I couldn’t see, and Don Armado had just not found my funny bone. Then the women arrived, and the whole performance took off. Not my favourite production, perhaps, but still an enjoyable afternoon, give or take.

To get the problems out of the way – with more people at this performance, I found the seats more uncomfortable, with less room to move around. The headset was working, but apparently an alarm went off, causing several very loud beeps to come through my headphones, so I switched the headset off for a couple of minutes. The beeps had gone when I switched it back on, and there were no more problems there, thank goodness. Also, there seems to be something about the Globe this year – every time we’ve been there, at least one person has had to be helped out, suffering in some way. It could be the heat, I suppose, but even Steve was feeling funny today, and that’s not usual for him. Today’s walking wounded was a young man, and I found myself wondering if anyone was keeping statistics on the health problems experienced there. Which brings me to the final problem. At the first glimpse of sunshine, the stewards start passing sunhats round, which is fine when it’s before the performance, but when it’s already started, it can be quite a distraction. Together with all the other comings and goings, it took us a while to feel involved in this performance.

Now for the good bits. The set was lovely. Two “knot paths” led out from the stage in a zigzag pattern, creating a triangular section in front of the stage for groundlings to cluster in. The walkways were great for the actors to come out from the stage, and there were steps at the end of each walkway for easy access in both directions. Before the start, we were treated to some music, and a couple of deer in puppet form – they reminded us both of the Little Angel puppetry, though not so detailed. The stag came on first, and was curious about the musicians before checking out the audience. I thought some folk would have stroked its nose, but no one seemed inclined to try it. Then the doe came on, and they went through a lovely courtship routine, very well done. Eventually, they went off, and the play started.

Michelle Terry played an excellent Princess of France. Normally subordinate to Rosalind dramatically speaking, this one was definitely in charge. She did have a good sense of humour, but she could throw a real strop when she wanted to, which was fairly often. She really ticks off Boyet at the start, but she doesn’t hold a grudge, and when it comes to the bread fight, she’s geared up like a Gatling gun. The pigeons got even more bread today. I got more of the sense that she’s not impressed by the King of Navarre, and doesn’t respect him for breaking his vows so easily. She holds sway over the whole performance, and partly for that reason, the men this time seem rather flabby.

To be fair, one of the men was injured today, so that probably cramped their style a bit. On the other hand, he did make good use of his crutches, and his difficulties in hiding during the discovery scene added to the fun. He had to scuttle pretty quickly round the pillar, and at one point held his arms up and pretended to be a statue. I don’t know if that’s how he does it when his leg’s fine, but perhaps it will be now. Jaquenetta and Costard were less noticeable this time around, and I didn’t get the feeling of sympathy for Don Armado with his lack of a shirt. The schoolmaster and his crony were OK, the Worthies were OK, and the atmosphere changed suitably when the announcement of the French King’s death was made. The final challenges to the men were apt, although I don’t know how a Princess of her brainpower could really expect a king to live as a hermit for a whole year. Apart from his lack of purpose, there’s a state to run! I do wish we had the sequel.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

Love’s Labour’s Lost – August 2006

Experience: 9/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Michael Kahn

Company: Shakespeare Theatre Company

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Friday 18th August 2006

Hooray – another wonderful American production! First, the pre-show. The director, Michael Kahn and the composer, Adam Wernock, spoke with us for about 45 minutes on the creative processes that led to the production being as it is. That is, the director spoke, the composer mainly listened, and Carol Rutter, who chaired the whole thing, took much too long to put the questions. However, it was very informative. Kahn explained how the theatre had come about – the library it’s attached to had (and still has?) the biggest collection of Shakespeare folios in existence. They decided about 25/30 years ago to make use of a courtyard area for productions of the plays, and this proved so successful they had to expand. Unfortunately, the library wasn’t keen to be involved, and so at this point the citizens of Washington DC chipped in and contributed enough money to enable a theatre to be created within a run-down area of Washington that was being redeveloped. He commented that since most residents of Washington are transitory, politics being what it is, this was quite remarkable (but then Will has a habit of turning up trumps!).

From the second year or so, he was invited to be artistic director of the new theatre (although I’m not sure if he had such a grand title then). Since that time they’ve performed five Shakespeare plays each year, doing over twenty of them in all. They’ve also had strong links with the RSC, which has brought over its productions regularly. Sometimes these clashed, and after a while, the Americans stopped trying to compete, and just avoided doing the plays the RSC was bringing over.

Because of these links, Michael Boyd was keen to have the company over for the Complete Works Festival, and his only request was that they do a comedy. Apparently everyone was relieved when they chose Love’s Labour’s Lost, as no one else wanted to do it. Kahn had first seen the play many years before at the National, directed by Olivier, and was scared to find there were no laughs in it. As he was due to direct it, he re-read the piece, and developed a strong sense of the play as commenting on relationships between men and women, and particularly the way the men were becoming more feminine, while the women were very strong and kept trouncing the men easily. He likened it to the situation at that time, the 1960s; young men wearing robes, with long hair, going off to India to meditate and attempting to find spiritual enlightenment, while women were burning bras and discovering their strength and power. So he used a contemporary setting for his first production. Later in the talk he observed that any way of staging Shakespeare is valid as long as it serves to illuminate the text, and doesn’t simply hijack it for the director’s own purposes. (Here, here!)

For this production, he decided to return to the 60s setting, for two main reasons. Firstly, he was interested to see how it would work looking back over forty years, given our different awareness and understanding today. Secondly, because the setting still conveys much of the sense that Shakespeare was trying to get across with this play. Like most reflections or talks on Will’s work, he started by describing LLL as a very complex play (come on then, tell us which Shakespeare play isn’t complex?). The specific problems with this play are the lack of plot, and the incredibly rich language and word plays, much too obscure for most modern audience members to grasp. Shakespeare is just showing off how good he is with words (no argument there) but without the skills as a dramatist that he develops later, the play lacks the substance of other works such as Much Ado. Paradoxically, Kahn asserted that despite these difficulties, whenever LLL has been staged, it has been successful; the play seems to have some inbuilt attraction.

The composer got a few words in about this time. Because there’s so much poetry in the play – the would-be-lovers are always penning love sonnets – they decided to put them to music, so the composer had a lot of work to do, researching American bands of that time and choosing suitable tunes to match the rhythm of each verse. Some parts of the poem were used as a chorus, and when they realised all four actors were on stage at the end of the first half, with their instruments, they added a full blown musical number to round off the half (see below for effect). Although some of the actors had some experience with their instruments, none had enough for this, so they all had to work really hard to reach a good level of proficiency.

To the performance itself. What a treat! I tried to calm my expectations before we saw it, as the pre-show had made it sound really good, but I didn’t have to worry. We saw the set during the pre-show – Indian temple/palace, lots of vast pots with orange/yellow/red flowers, lavishly decorated pillars, a couple of seats and a couple of palm trees. The King of Navarre was translated into an Asian nobleman/king, bent on raising his spiritual awareness, and welcomed three American rock stars to join him in this three year retreat. They made the inevitable mistake of signing up to the celibacy thing just before Berowne reminded the King he’s got an imminent meeting with a woman, the King of France’s daughter, no less. How stupid are these guys, to forget a thing like that? Anyway, we had some fun seeing the King tell off Costard for consorting with a woman, knowing that he’s going to suffer for love himself before long. Costard was played as an American hippy which fitted well with the setting but didn’t get some aspects of his part across so well. Still he was good fun, especially the spliff-rolling and slogan chanting.

Don Armado was entertaining too, but even better was his little page, Moth. Often played by a boy actor, here he was played as an Indian servant by Nick Choksi, a young man, who was able to deliver the lines much more clearly and wring much more humour from the dialogue and the situation. Don Armado had a habit of throwing his arms wide and letting his fancy cane fly off in the process. One of Moth’s jobs was to catch this cane, and redeliver it on cue; he did this brilliantly, and I got a lot more out of this portrayal than I have before. I also found Don Armado more sympathetic. He came across as pompous, certainly, but there were more glimpses of his vulnerability, especially when his threadbare clothing was revealed beneath his coat before the duel.

The ladies arrived on Vespas, in pastel shades matching their outfits, Boyet riding pillion with one of the ladies. Their costumes were A-line dresses as short as you can get away with, knee-high boots, and their hair was a combination of 60s straight and 80s big. From the outset, these women were clearly more savvy than the men, which made the attempted wooing scenes all the more fun. One gem of this particular setting was when the wooers approached dressed as Russians. Since this was the 1960s, and they were pretending to be Russian, what better than putting them in space suits with helmets to disguise who they are? The men space-walked onto stage, slowly and ponderously, to the introduction from 2001. Brilliant.

But the highlight of the production was the poem-writing and discovery scene. As three of the men were musicians, naturally they were composing songs to their loves. This scene was marvellous, as the music brought the poetry to life. Longaville actually pushed his drum kit onto the stage for his rendition, and when Dumaine arrived, he threw a cover over himself and the drums. Then, as Dumaine started his ballad, the others joined in, Berowne up one of the palm trees on his guitar, Longaville on his drums, and the King, I think, had a tambourine or some such. Song done, each watcher revealed himself, and after a lengthy equivocation from Berowne to justify breaking their oaths, the first half closed with a song from the group + the King – a great way to end the act.

All the minor characters were good. For once I enjoyed the schoolteacher, Holofernes, and his accomplice, Sir Nathaniel. Holofernes looked somewhat dishevelled and the worse for wear, á la Sir Les Patterson. His conceit was set up very nicely, showing us how pretentious both he and Don Armado were. The nine Worthies part was the best I have seen. Dull, the policeman, was OK, though not up to the standard of the others, while Jaquenetta was stunning and danced provocatively at every opportunity. This was simply the best Love’s Labour’s Lost I have seen.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at