Christopher Luscombe’s production of this lovely play is outstanding. Set at Charlecote Park, it’s lovely to look at and despite the many location changes in the text the set management is so skilful that it comes across as fluid and seamless. There are real books in the study set with which the play opens (or at least one!) and the backdrop of the Manor and its towers delightful to look at. Set pieces like the roof emerge through the extensive trap.
All eight of the lords and ladies are strongly played, Sam Alexander as King of Navarre and Leah Whittaker as Princess of France being delightful foils to Edward Bennett’s Berowne and Michelle Terry’s Rosaline. The four lords are convincing because there is something naive and innocent about their silly retreat, nowhere better shown than when Dumaine is seen wearing pyjamas on the roof with his Bridesheadian teddy bear reading his love letter, and and the ladies because they are enjoying their trip away from home.
The comic scenes, too often tiresome and overdone in productions of Love’s Labour’s Lost, are skilfully handled. Holofernes, Nathaniel and Dull play a charming game of bowls, Costard (Nick Haverson) is hilarious, the aesthete Armado (John Hodgkinson) plays the piano for Moth (Peter McGovern) to sing beautifully and Nathaniel looks tastelessly splendid in his sandals and socks. The Muscovite songs and dances are silly but delightful to watch.
Simon’s Higlett’s costumes are delightful to look at, attentive to detail and with lots of amusing touches. Nigel Hess’s music complements the action perfectly and at one moment is accompanied by sheep noises in the background.
Because the whole play is so well performed the ending is particularly moving. It is a delight that Marcade’s announcement is so underplayed at the end and that the mood suddenly but subtly shifts from youthful merriment to impending doom, the announcement of the King of France’s death heralding the imminent arrival of the first world war as the lords don their army uniforms at the end. The production wonderfully balances the serious and the comic, the serious and the frivolous, the game of courting with the possible reality of love.
This is as good a production of Love’s Labour’s Lost as I have seen. You must see it, too. Come to Stratford to see this excellent cast in Love’s Labour’s Won, too, and enjoy and restful and comfort-filled stay at Moss Cottage while you do so. You will go home with lifted spirits and maybe a little nostalgia for times when life was more innocent.