Theatre Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost - York Theatre Royal

Love’s Labour’s Lost
York Theatre Royal

Will someone please tell Northern Broadsides to cut it out! Has no-one in their 20 years history told them that Shakespeare is meant to be inaccessible, boring and feature posh men in tights? The Halifax based company, this time in association with North Staffordshire’s New Vic Theatre, however continue with their trademark style of presenting the bard for the masses featuring local dialects and accents, strong visual humour and music, making this production of Love’s Labour’s Lost easy on all senses and not too testing on the brain for those finding it difficult keeping up with ye olde English!

The tale is rather straight forward and simple with the King and his associates falling in love with the French Princess and her hand maidens - the only hitch that might prevent them from eventually becoming hitched is they have all pledged to certain rules to be adhered to during there 3 years of study, one of which stipulates no female contact. But rules are made for breaking and are not going to get in the way of this story. Love is not just contained to these 8 though as elsewhere the flamboyant Spanish soldier Don Adriano has also fallen in love with a local maid.

The story then follows the men in their attempts to express their devotion for the fair ladies and the ladies methods of teasing their would-be-suitors. Add in to the mix a handful of servants and slaves out to cause mischief – either intentionally or through incompetence.

The joy with any Shakespeare play is of course in the words and with the incomparable Barrie Rutter at the directorial helm, these are allowed to shine and ring out with crystal clear clarity. The mix of accents is great, adding a gritty sense of reality to the production.

Throughout the evening, the action is punctuated by music composed by Broadsides regular Conrad Nelson as the cast show a sickening amount of talent by picking up nearby instruments at the drop of a hat – they even make blowing across the tops of bottles in to an art form.

Like in any good panto where visual gags are used to keep younger audiences members enthralled despite not understanding all of the spoken words, here Northern Broadsides bring in a variety of visual humour to aide anyone struggling to keep up with the poetic language. But these are not just flippant, unnecessary additions but sit well within the overall production and make it at lot more enjoyable than any of the staid productions I remember from my childhood! The juxtaposition of two towering cast members against the more diminutive figure of Dean Whatton is comedy at its most simple, purest and funniest.

The cast, too numerous to mention but all deserving of acclaim, make this production extremely watchable – even for someone who admits to taking sometime to tune in to the Shakespearean style.  They feature abundant energy, adding colour and life to all of the characters and they bring the great words to life with style and finesse.

Will this convert people who have no time for Shakespeare? Possibly not, but for those sitting on the fence then Northern Broadsides in general and this production specifically are well worth a go. And as an extra bonus, Saturday’s two performances will feature a cameo appearance by comedian Lenny Henry.

Shakespeare just doesn’t get any more fun or accessible than this.

Love’s Labour’s Lost continues at York Theatre Royal until Saturday 5 May 2012

Review by James Eaglesfield