the messy hijinks of courtly romance

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.

Love's Labour's Lost is available from Opus Arte on dvd and blu-ray. Review copy supplied.

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