October 8, 2007, by Peter Kirwan

Love’s Labour’s Lost @ Shakespeare’s Globe

I’m starting to come round to the idea that there is no place for comedy quite like Shakespeare’s Globe. While many critics have a good many negative things to say about the Globe audiences, there is no denying the spirit and atmosphere of the place. A production is almost immediately rendered ten times funnier than usual by the venue itself and the willingness of the crowd to throw themselves heart and soul into the performance.

This is very important when it comes to a play like Love’s Labour’s Lost. Three hours is a long time to stand for a play which contains some of the obscurest humour in Shakespeare, and Dominic Dromgoole’s production fails to bring life to it all (Timothy Walker’s Don Adriano in particular raised barely a smile in any of his toe-curlingly boring scenes), but a Globe crowd is unusually forgiving, happy to go from stony silence to hysterics in a matter of moments, and the hysterics yesterday far outweighed the silences.

This was the final performance of the Globe’s year, and a bite in the October air didn’t stint enjoyment one bit. Boasting an exceptionally young cast (Trystan Gravelle (Berowne) is barely in his twenties, compared to David Tennant at 35/6 who will be playing the role for the RSC next year), this is a production full of life that plays to the Globe’s strengths, turning the wordy Love’s Labour’s Lost into a battle-of-the-sexes romp that serves to reminds you just how funny the play actually is.

The highlight was undoubtedly the men. Gravelle’s Berowne, William Mannering’s Longaville and David Oakes’ Dumaine made a wonderful team, standing together in an early scene nodding and tutting in unison as the King read out Don Armado’s letter. Gravelle held the stage with a lilting Welsh accent and a confident stride, but was continually upstaged by Mannering. On crutches after an accident the previous week, he had somehow managed to integrate the crutches into his performance, using them to great effect particularly during his comic hugging of Berowne. The famous four-way overhearing scene was wonderfully staged, the men running around madly as they tried to stay out of each other’s sight.

The ladies were excellent too. Katherine and Maria, as is often the case, faded into the background next to Rosaline, here played by Gemma Arterton in her theatrical debut who gave an exquisitely poised and self-assured performance, a foe who you could definitely see Berowne losing his heart to. The real highlight among the ladies was Michelle Terry’s Princess, however. Her range was comical, from girly giggling and whispering with her ladies to full on matriarchal screaming as she gave out their plans, one sustained outburst of energy earning her a sustained ovation for its sheer mountainous extremes. Yet she was also capable of reassuming the dignity associated with her role, particularly in the sombre closing moments after Mercade’s entrance.

Between these eight characters the play sustained a party atmosphere, best exemplified when the final confrontation between Costard and Don Armado descended into a food fight between the nobles, providing an effective contrast upon Mercade’s appearance. This atmosphere sustained the lengthy play, the director clearly realising that the low comics in this play can’t be relied on for the humour, and he wisely put his trust in the abilities of his young leads. Paul Rider’s Boyet became immensely important as a result, the mover and shaker between the two groups, and his highly smug performance was one of the production’s highlights.

Elsewhere, Joe Caffrey’s Costard gave a solid and occasionally manic performance, with possibly a bit too much bump n’ grind with Rhiannon Oliver’s Jaquenetta. The tiny Seroca Davis tried hard with Moth, but her high-pitched voice ended up as meaningless squeaking as she engaged in sophisticated wordplay with her Spanish master. Their scenes were the weakest in the production, the audience standing politely in puzzled silence and very relieved when they left. Holofernes and Nathaniel equally didn’t impress- solid performances, but the parts themselves are thankless. The performance of the Nine Worthies was fairly enjoyable, but a series of farting jokes between Nathaniel, Holofernes and Dull was one of the least advisable production decisions.

Dominic Dromgoole came on stage at the end to give his thanks on behalf of the Globe’s year. He made a comparison between his production and The Globe itself: “Neither of them make any sense, but somehow they both work”. The truth is that both have serious flaws, but both make up for it with a wealth of atmosphere, good will and the knowledge of how to raise a laugh. That’s enough for me.

Posted in Theatre review