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A Follow Spot, January 2011

The Opus Arte organization, which has brought opera and ballet performances to cinemas, has now added Shakespeare to its roster. “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” the most recent entry in this “Shakespeare in Cinema” project, was filmed during a performance at the Globe Theatre in London, and from there made its way to the screen at the Art Theater in Champaign, where I was saw it last weekend.

This particular filmed performance puts you right in the middle of the Globe. Although there are some close-ups and framed shots, a good deal of the time you can see the audience members and the whole stage, exactly as if you were there. Definitely a treat to get to visit the historic refurbished Globe without airfare or jetlag!

“Love’s Labour’s Lost” is probably not high on most people’s lists of their favorite Shakespeare plays (except maybe Kenneth Branagh, who tried a musical version on film in 2000.) But “LLL” does have its joys. It’s a fizzy romantic comedy for the most part, with the King of Navarre and his three compatriots Berowne, Longaville and Dumaine vowing to give up love for three years in order to concentrate on more studious pursuits. Of course, as soon as they take their oath, the lovely Princess of France and her three ladies in waiting pop up outside the castle, testing the limits of the men’s forbearance. My favorite bits involve Berowne, that smart, witty lord who has always enjoyed the whip hand over Cupid, but now finds himself bemoaning his fate:

And I, forsooth, in love!
I, that have been love’s whip,
A very beadle to a humorous sigh,
A critic, nay, a night-watch constable,
A domineering pedant o’er the boy,
Than whom no mortal so magnificent.
This wimpled, whining, purblind, wayward boy,
This signor-junior, giant-dwarf, Dan Cupid

Don’t you wish you’d written that? Wimpled, whining, purblind, wayward, signor-junior, giant-dwarf? I love Berowne.

Aside from the three lords and their ladies, the plot is further complicated by a clown named Costard, a Spanish dandy, a country wench named Jacquenetta beloved by both Costard and the Spaniard, a snippy little page, and a schoolteacher and a curate who like to spout Latin and make themselves sound intelligent.

In Shakespeare’s time, the characters and their incessant wordplay (with puns and alliteration and rhymes and repartee spinning in every direction) probably seemed fresh and fun, although it may be a challenge to figure out what they’re saying now. That’s where the Globe production, directed for the stage by Dominic Dromgoole, excels, with zippy, funny staging tricks that communicate everything nicely. There’s skipping, hopping, double-takes and pratfalls, and it all works. (You can see a trailer for the film, complete with amusing action, here. You can also see how Jonathan Fensom’s clever scenic design puts the audience literally in the middle of the stage, with a sort of figure 8 representing the King’s knot garden where groundlings lounge.)

Among the cast, I especially like Trystan Gravelle’s Berowne (seen here talking about the play and performing a bit), who is sharp, headstrong and adorable throughout, as well as Michelle Terry’s take on the Princess of France. She has enough spizzerinctum to dominate the action, which isn’t really usual for Princesses of France in this play.

It’s amazing to me that they all act, sing, dance and generally impress. British thespians seem to do that as a matter of course and I never have understood how that works. But it does. In this “LLL,” there’s singing after Shakespeare’s bittersweet ending, tying it all up in a neat bow.

This was a terrific introduction to Opus Arte’s “Shakespeare in Cinema,” and I’m very much looking forward to “Romeo and Juliet,” coming up next.

Stuart Ian Burns
The Hamlet Weblog featuring Shakespeare Blogs, August 2010

When I was lucky enough to see As You Like It at Shakespeare’s Globe last year, I assumed it would be the only show in that season that I’d be lucky enough to witness. Now, thanks to a collaboration with Opus Arte, best known for their live recordings of music, opera and ballet, a number of the plays are being recorded on hi-definition for broadcasting in cinema and the lucrative secondary market of dvd and blu-ray. The first wave includes As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet and the revived production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, originally conceived in 2007 but added to last year’s Young Hearts season.

It’s quite easy to fixate on the climax of Love’s Labour’s Lost which doesn’t quite fit the pattern of most of Shakespeare’s comedies. At the moment when he seems ready to complete the coupling up of royals and friends, the Princess of France gains word of the death of her father and that she must take the throne, their potential significant others entering exile until the winds of change have blown over. The critical assumption is that this cliffhanger was meant to be resolved in the now missing Love’s Labour’s Won, a grand experiment in comedy across two parts.

Dominic Dromgoole’s Globe production, by emphasising the shift in tone from the messy hijinks of courtly romance to the sudden melancholy of the Princess taking office, the production suggests another option—that Shakespeare was cheekily dramatising the moment when Elizabeth replaced her father on the throne and the dramatic shift from the frivolity of youth to ruling the known world. The arc of Michelle Terry’s authoritative performance, perhaps the strongest of the souls on stage, even resolves itself in the moment when grief and recognition combine.

Until then, what a Carry-On! There are essentially two possible approaches to Love Labour’s Lost's complex maze of word play and allusions; emphasise the text in the hopes the audience will be attentive enough to go with it or cut as many of the obscure passages as possible and replace them with slapstick (or songs if you’re Kenneth Branagh). Dromgoole seeks a middle ground. No innuendo goes unemphasised and the director also relies heavily on the bawdy abilities of his cast for a winning combination.

It’s fair to say that even if not all of the senses of Shakespeare’s words are communicated, the humour certainly is, in Fergal McElherron’s Chaplinesque antics as Costard and in the manic desperation between the students not to reveal their amorous ambitions having agreed to put learning before love. Because of the venue, these are not subtle performances, which helps poor Don Armado, one of the least funniest of Shakespeare’s clowns who here is gifted a Borat-like accent by Paul Ready and a heavy dose of pathos which means that for once the play within a play doesn’t drag.

Now and again the text is allowed to zing not least in the barbed exchanges between the charismatic Trystan Gravelle returning as Berowne and Thomasin Rand, whose aristocratic face masks a tender wit. She’s a worthy replacement for the just out of RADA Gemma Arterton whose appearance in the original version was a spring-board for her film career. But as with the other Globe productions I’ve seen, there’s a genuine sense of comradeship, of the cast pulling together, making the most of the unexpected, when planes are flying over or some other unusual noise bleeding in from modern London, going about the business of living outside this historical bubble.

The on-screen audience laps all of this up, and indeed part of the enjoyment of watching the production is seeing the reaction of the groundlings. Recording in the Globe presents a special challenge; most filmed theatre shies away poking into the auditorium but in this venue, the audience are vital part of the show. Film director Ian Russell treats this as an event, and gives a genuine appreciation of what it’s like within the space, the atmosphere, though with enough close-ups for it not to look static on a television screen, illuminating the delicate details of designer Jonathan Fensom’s period costumes.

Kirk McElhearn
MusicWeb International, August 2010

In this comedy, four scholars, including the King of Navarre, make a pledge not to speak to women for three years, so they might study and learn great things. Naturally, it is hard to keep this pledge, especially when the Princess of France comes to parley with the King. As she says:

Navarre hath made a vow,
Till painful study shall outwear three years,
No woman may approach his silent court
(Act II, Scene 1)

Naturally, the men see the women, fall in love, and then it’s a 16th century version of Sex and the City from then on, though there is no real happy ending, as is usually the case in Shakespeare’s comedies.

One of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, Love’s Labour’s Lost is a sort of intellectual comedy, with sophisticated wordplay, Latin phrases, and a complicated love story between four scholars and four maids from the court of France.

Performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, the reproduction of the original Globe, a skilful troupe of actors presents this work. The theatre is built in such a way that some of the audience stands below the stage, and walkways extend through the audience, allowing the actors to be in the middle of the spectators. This works well, especially in the more physical scenes.

At 2800 lines, this is one of Shakespeare’s longest comedies, and it does drag a bit. The production tries to keep things moving, but it can be hard to follow with many period allusions and puns (based on meanings from Shakespeare’s time) that are now opaque. The director chose here to add as much slapstick comedy as possible, no doubt in an attempt to liven things up, and this helps keep the story moving.

Unfortunately, the actors don’t seem convinced that the play is indeed an entertainment, and the overall performance is spotty. While they present a good ensemble, only a couple of them stand out: Trystan Gravelle as Berowne, and Fergal McElherron as Costard, the ignorant country bumpkin, who is one of Shakespeare’s most refreshing characters, and whose lack of intelligence is a fine counterpoint to the pretended wits of the “scholars” in the play. It is Costard who, in this play, uses the longest word in all of Shakespeare, “honorificabilitudinitatibus”, when mocking a learned schoolmaster.

It’s not fair to fault the actors, though. This long play is hard to present, and is not one of the most popular of Shakespeare plays. They do acquit themselves quite well given the text and its longueurs. For real fans of Shakespeare, it’s worth seeing this production, but for the casual theatre-lover, it might be better to look at other Shakespeare plays.

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