Love's Labour's Lost

William Shakespeare
York Shakespeare Project
Friargate Theatre, York
(2004)

It is hard to believe it is a year ago that I sat in the Fiargate Theatre and watched an hilarious Comedy of Errors from the York Shakespeare Project, but, indeed, a year has passed and now we have the fifth of the series, Love's Labour's Lost, a very different kind of comedy to director Chris Rawson's last production. In between, of course, we've had Titus Andronicus - not exactly a barrel of laughs!

In Rawson's production we start at the end, with the Spring and Winter songs, divorced from their context and sung, not by the rsitcs, but by a mixed group.. Beautiful a capella singing, definitely, but why put them at the beginning? The effect is to create a rather odd ending: the King and Berowne are alone on the stage as the latter says, "That's too long for a play" - end of play. Very modern, but also very un-Shakespearean. There are good reasons for ending with the rustics, unsophisticated but undoubtedly more down-to-earth than the King and his companions.

Love's Labour's Lost is a play about, among other things, language, and it plays with words and their meanings at a very basic level (in the "low" sub-plot) as well as intellectually and wittily in the "high" style of the courtiers. Words can be used to deceive, not just others but one's own self, and this kind of multi-faceted deception is another theme which runs through the play. To carry it off requires a lightness of touch, a kind of playfulness in the speaking, and an agile vocal dynamic which most amateur actors cannot achieve, through a lack, not of ability, but of training.

Those who came closest to it were Paul Toy (the King) who, as a Webber Douglas graduate, does have the training, Beverley Chapman (the Princess) and, in particular, Gillian Bayes, whose Moth was a constant delight. But on the whole, the speaking, although generally admirably clear, was too much on one level, with, however, more lightness and brightness in the second half.

It is a very difficult play, a very wordy play (in the sense that the words are the action), and one which is for that reason, very difficult for modern audiences - and modern actors!

The YSP's next production will be Romeo and Juliet, to be played in the open air next July. Hopefully it will attract better audiences.

Peter Lathan