Love Labour’s Lost at the Sam Wanamaker theatre is a stab at olde-world techniques

Love’s Labour’s Lost (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

Verdict: La-di-dah love games

There is a reason Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost is not often produced: it is a wordy tangle about genteel courtship games among six young lovelies. Only at the end comes the whack of reality, when one of the lovers, the Princess of France, is informed that her father has died. That blow transforms the mood and makes the last ten minutes resonate; but until that point it is all rather fnarr-fnarr and frivolous.

At the intimate, candle-lit Sam Wanamaker theatre they give it a stylised stab: olde-worlde techniques with flashes of 21st century irony. The princess is played by Kirsty Woodward, tall as a hop pole and done up in anachronistic spectacles with an inhaler to keep her calm in the love chase.

 

At the intimate, candle-lit Sam Wanamaker theatre they give it a stylised stab: olde-worlde techniques with flashes of 21st century irony. The princess is played by Kirsty Woodward, tall as a hop pole and done up in anachronistic spectacles with an inhaler to keep her calm in the love chase.

Miss Woodward’s performance, with its occasional throw-away sarcasm, reminded me of Tamsin Greig. The three male lovers (whose doomed attempt to lead a monastic life is the premise for the comedy), gallop around on toy hobby horses. Is this ‘the kingly state of youth’ or just childishness?

Nick Bagnall’s direction was too fey for me. Spanish braggart Don Armado, done with aplomb but to diminishing returns by Jos Vantyler, is normally served by a tiny servant, Moth. Not here. Moth’s presence is imaginary, Mr Vantyler mouthing the words in a northern-English accent and Moth’s movements suggested by scratches of a ‘cello string. This only confuses an already knotty plot.

The show has its moments: some charming music and evocative snuffing of candles at the end. With the Royal Shakespeare Company so off-form at present, it is good that people like Mr Bagnall are bringing their undoubted skill to rarely-seen plays. But too much cleverness clogs. I watched two teenagers in the audience. They were bored rigid.

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