The final Shakespearean play offered by The Stratford Festival this season is Love’s Labour’s Lost directed by John Caird. Love’s is an intricate play full of verbal tricks and esoteric allusions that are lost on a modern audience. The lyrical music carries one through and in the hands of a good director there is plenty of humour to be mined.
Caird does not miss a trick and even though we are caught short trying to follow every word the overall result is enjoyable theatre.
From left: Andrew Robinson, Mike Shara, Sanjay Talwar and Thomas Olajide. Photography by David Hou.
The plot can sound like a yawner. The King of Navarre (Sanjay Talwar) and three of his lords, Berowne (Mike Shara), Longaville (Andrew Robinson) and Dumaine (Thomas Olajide) have decided to shun the company of women and devote their time to studying for three years.
No sooner have they signed the pact to do that than The Princess of France (Ruby Joy) and her three attending ladies, Rosaline (Sarah Afful), Maria (Ijeoma Emesowum) and Katherine (Tiffany Claire Martin), arrive and the arrows of Eros shatter the idea of shunning women.
Mike Shara displayed real comic talent as Berowne, the reluctant participant in the no-women pact who falls in love and sees what the others are doing. He comments on their follies and is the source of much laughter. Shara plays off the audience, does double takes and gives us a highly entertaining portrait of probably the most important character of the play.
Caird milks every character for every laugh, lyrical line or ridiculous act. He is successful even if at times the oversupply of fancy language gets in the way. The main characters do excellent work but much of the fun comes from the minor characters. Gabriel Long as Moth, the servant of Don Adriano de Armado, the “Spanish braggart” is simply hilarious. The pint-sized and aptly named Moth has a squeaky voice an irreverent attitude and he buzzes around to uproarious effect.
Josue Laboucane gets the plum role of Costard, the clown of the play. He miss-sends love notes, butchers the English language, does physical pranks and along with Moth is a great source of laughter.
Members of the company in Love's Labour's Lost. Photography by David Hou.
Shakespeare provides a pedantic schoolmaster in Holofernes (played well by Tom Rooney) and a prudish curate in Sir Nathaniel (a funny Brian Tree), who are perfect and almost too easy targets for ridicule. Add a constable called Dull (Brad Rudy) and a dairymaid called Jaquennetta (Jennifer Mogbock) and you have a top ranking laughter-producing team.
Juan Chioran, hair combed straight up, is the perfect braggart Spaniard – a Don Quixote who made a wrong turn and ended up in a play by Shakespeare..
Much of the credit goes to Caird. He micromanages every move, voice intonation, arm gesture, double take, body language and reaction to best effect. Without these details the play can easily be bogged down in its often dense language and become a snoozer.
At the end there is a masque of the Nine Worthies (think of the Pyramus and Thisbe production by the artisans in A Midsummer Night). Here Shakespeare and Caird pull out all the comic stops. Costard enters as an unstoppably funny Pompey. Nathaniel comes in as Alexander the Great, Holofernes as Judas Maccabeus and Moth as Hercules. Armando tries to top the troupe as Hector but he is cut short by Costard who tells him that Jaquennetta is pregnant – by Armando!
Well-directed, well-played, well-designed, well done.
Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare opened on August 14 and will run in repertory until October 9, 2015 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca