Love's Labour's Lost

Love's Labour's Lost follows the fortunes of King Ferdinand of Navarre and his three friends, who have made a vow that they will eschew women (among other things) for three years. Their plans go awry with the arrival of the Princess of France and her attendants, as all the men immediately fall in love with them.

The performances are, without exception, excellent. Minor characters are about as thoughtfully performed as they can reasonably be.

A lot of thought has clearly gone into making this play as much fun as possible. Most of the play is still completely accessible to a modern audience, and all those bits are milked to the utmost. But care has also been taken that sections that might be confusing – there's a long passage filled with 500 year old literary allusions, for example – are peppered with physical jokes, ad libs and reinterpretations that make them generally fun to watch. At one point, the fact that a particular passage is clearly incomprehensible to an audience today actually becomes the joke, with subsequent lines played for ironic laughs. It's very cleverly done. This is a production that really wants you to enjoy it, and it almost always succeeds.

The performances are, without exception, excellent. Minor characters are about as thoughtfully performed as they can reasonably be. Particular credit here goes to Cameron Varner’s Dumaine; he manages to turn a single line in which he is described as a sweetheart into a whole personality. Jennifer Dick’s Boyet, too, is a delight to watch. She finds nuance and coherency in a role which, in the hands of less skilled performer, could just be “sassy servant”.

The leads all give equally strong, surprisingly subtle performances. Ben Clifford’s King Ferdinand is just right as a young idiot with grand ideas and plenty of humility under the surface. Stephanie McGregor, as the Princess of France, is an excellent comic actor; she really commands attention when she’s on stage, just as she should for her role. James Ronan’s Berowne and Nicole Cooper's Rosaline are very well matched indeed as equals, and their banter is always a lot of fun. The real strength of the performances, though, is in their truly ensemble nature. Each of the three groups works very well together, creating believable and fun group dynamics that are a pleasure to feel a part of.

Occasionally, the play feels like it is trying to pull in two different directions at once, bringing out the fun and silliness but also drawing out the more serious themes. At its best, this makes the play feel complex and interesting. At its worst, it can feel like a bit of a betrayal of the audience’s good will. At one point, we are asked to laugh with the nobles at the fools performing for them, while also sympathising with the fools in their humiliation. This creates an uncomfortable divided loyalty which is either a stroke of genius or a total misstep.

In all, this is a very fun, very silly play with a few unexpected knife twists, and this production makes the most of both.

Reviews by Grace Knight

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The Blurb

“And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods

Make heaven drowsy with the harmony”

In order to dedicate themselves to a life of study, the King and his friends take an oath to avoid the company of women for three years. No sooner have they made their idealistic pledge than the Princess of France and her ladies-in-waiting arrive, presenting the men with a severe test of their high-minded resolve. Soon all are smitten and confusion abounds, as each struggles secretly to declare his love in this comedy of deception, desire and mistaken identity.

“What fool is not so wise

To lose an oath to win a paradise?”

The ultimate battle of the sexes, Love’s Labour’s Lost is by turns romantic, hilarious and unbearably touching and this summer Bard in the Botanics brings Shakespeare’s sparkling comedy to the Scottish professional stage for the first time in almost 50 years in a beautiful new promenade production.