Love's Labour's Lost

William Shakespeare
Guildford Shakespeare Company in association with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Guildford Castle Grounds
(2010)

Production photo

The Guildford Shakespeare Company are on the move - constantly! With no convenient wings where they might be able to catch their breath, their exits see them disappearing at high speed into the far distance, in character all the way, but there’s no time for their audience to linger on their departure before the next scene is upon us, the actors suddenly appearing from all possible angles - at one point half way up an oak tree.

Never do they appear out of breath, and never for one moment do they stumble on the extensive and often complicated dialogue - even the Latin. You have to be enthusiastic, energetic - and young!

The story is simple and predictable. Ferdinand, King of Navarre, and his three lords swear an oath (some reluctantly) that for three years they will have nothing to do with women or pleasure while they concentrate on their studies. No prizes for guessing what happens when the lovely French Princess arrives with her three beautiful attendants.

There is a lot of double meaning and bawdy humour in the text, which an Elizabethan audience would recognise immediately but which is lost on us today without lengthy explanations, but this matters not one jot. Actions speak louder than words and the cast, under the direction of Simon Usher, make the meaning perfectly clear - at least most of it.

Determined not to mar any of the beautiful location, no stage is erected and the audience sit on chairs on the gently sloping bank under the spread of a huge oak tree, with the gentle clunk of bowls coming from the green below. An idyllic site - and a signpost helpfully points the way to the palace (bandstand), France (the princess’s camp) and the village (somewhere out of sight but just over the hill).

Matt Pinches and Sarah Gobran founded this company in 2006 with only one production which was sold out every night, and they have since become an established highlight of the summer season, increasing the number of productions each year, both appearing in every one. Pinches, in my opinion, is a comic genius, his mobile features expressing every emotion. He finds comedy in the character of the King but (a small cast necessitating some doubling up) his interpretation of the schoolmaster Holofernes is a complete joy, his face twisting into a supercilious grimace, and definitely a nasty smell under his nose, as he converses with Rikki Chamberlain’s curate demonstrating his superior (?) knowledge of Latin. Chamberlain also plays Boyet, but especially excels as the swaggering Spanish braggart. Gobran is the Princess, imperious but totally aware of the humour in the situation - her voice clear and true carrying across the open grounds with no effort. My only criticism of this play is not with her, but with the unflattering costumes supplied for her and her entourage. Set in 1940’s France it may be, with austerity being the order of the day, but even so.....the King and his men are smartly clad, surely a Princess....

The witty and wordy bantering between Berowne (Stephen Darcy) and the lady Rosaline (Annie Hemingway) is expertly presented. Jack Brear is the lord Dumaine, and funnier as constable Dull, with recent graduate Leonie Heath impish and playful as Moth and the lady Maria. Caolan Byrne takes Longaville and the comical Costard in his stride, his Irish accent adding emphasis to the comedy and Rachel Donovan is happily wanton as dairymaid Jaquenetta and calmly amused as the lady Katherine.

There is, perhaps, more lyrical poetry in this play than any other and it sings along joyfully, culminating in the cuckoo song, beautifully set to music by Mary McAdam and movingly sung by Rikki Chamberlain. On a balmy summer evening what better place to be - the World Cup fades into insignificance.

Until 3rd July

Reviewer: Sheila Connor