Love's Labour's Lost

William Shakespeare
Cease and Desist Theatre Company
Rosemary Branch Theatre

Luke Jasztal as Birowne, Ian Baksh as Longeville and Nigel Fyfe as Ferdinand Credit: Charlotte Engelberg
Rachael Maclean as Princess, Ailsa Ilott as Rosaline and Diana Vucane as Katherine Credit: Charlotte Engelberg
Ross Macnamara as Don Armando and Teed Stokes as Mith Credit: Charlotte Engelberg
Ailsa Ilott as Rosaline and Rachael Maclean as Princess Credit: Charlotte Engelberg
Luke Jasztal as Birowne with Diana Vucane (in mirror) as Katherine Credit: Charlotte Engelberg

This is a quirky modern take on Shakespeare’s comic satire on fashionable ideas of romance that cuts it heavily—shredding would actually be more appropriate—removing the comic subplot entirely along with all the minor characters, inserting modern references and new text, but it is still brief enough to suit those with short attention spans.

The story is pared down to its basics. A group of young men (there now only three of them) swear to give up women and their company only to find three new young women thrust before them for whom they immediately fall.

There is a little tinkering with the story. Other parts of their oath are ignored for the men are no longer the young king of Navarre and his courtiers, promising to devote their lives for three years to study and self improvement, but a group of actors who seem to be performing a double bill or playing in repertoire with a company of women. Their vow is now a house rule imposed by the theatre owner and stage management tape out a line dividing their shared dressing room into areas for hims and hers.

The French Princess arriving on diplomatic business is no longer royal; she and her ladies become actresses, though she does have a tiara to go along with her Aussie accent—a would-be pop queen perhaps, with a stage name of Princess.

Don Armardo (Ross Mcnamara) and his juvenile attendant Moth (Reed Stokes) are now the house manager and a chocs and refreshment vendor and Jaquenetta (Maria Austin), the country wench for whom the Spaniard falls, is now some sort of resident stage manager.

The changes don’t make the situation more believable than the original and this production doesn’t make much of Shakespeare’s satirical send up of attitudes to romantic love and courtship verse. That’s partly because this trio of men deliver the verse so well.

Luke Jasztal as Birowne, Nigel Fyfe as Ferdinand and Ian Baksh as Longaville are now all equals, though Ferdinand (in Shakespeare the king who proposed their sexual separation) gains a little authority by being older. When they dress up to attend a masked ball, instead of pretending to be visiting Russians they masquerade as Spiderman, Batman and Robin.

These disguises prompt some rewrites but are fun, though the girls see through them. It is less obvious that the Rachael Maclean’s Princess, Ailsa Ilott’s Rosaline and Diane Vucane’s Katherine have disguised themselves as each other to (successfully) fool the men.

Vucane and Jasztal’s direction (and presumably adaptation) solves a lot of the problems of making the play work for a modern audience by its removal of the low comedy subplot and of a great deal of the word play (which is just a well judging by the way a remaining chunk between Don Armardo and Moth is handled).

If it doesn’t work, cut it is a bit of a cop-out but an eminently practical solution. There is a long history of chopping plays down to their best bits; there’s no great blame in that. This production may set up an unreal situation but it sets out to entertain and delivers energetic performances, though what you get is only half of Shakespeare’s play.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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