Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Nicky Diss
Love Labour’s Lost is a lengthy play demanding a lot from contemporary audiences: laboured with four hundred year old word play, a plot that winds and turns but ultimately ends abruptly, and which involves a great many characters. It can feel at times randomly thrown together. It also has the longest word in all of Shakespeare’s plays. And the longest speech. Oh, and the longest scene as well. Perhaps it is not too surprising that this early play nearly disappeared from stages for a good two hundred years.
This can be a difficult world to enter. However, with gleeful abandon Shakespeare in the Garden returnith to Fuller pubs, with Open Bar’s company of travelling players delivering a spirited production of this labour of love.
In essence, the story is straightforward. A king and his lords embrace celibacy in lieu of love. This is until three French ladies and their princess come calling. Meanwhile, a pompous Spaniard wants a dairymaid for himself and a Latin scholar shows off his knowledge to anyone who will listen. A motley crew of attendants, page boys, and country characters complement the ever-growing stage space.
The strength of this production lies with a talented ensemble of only four players with an infectious energy. Director Nicky Diss finds a way to highlight the romance and comedy by focusing on fast paced storytelling, while embracing the Italian commedia tradition of defined characters. She also leaves space for the cast to relish their excellent verse speaking. Witty songs and ukulele music composed by David Knight lift the production further.
Much of the action is taken up with shenanigans involving concealed desires, feuding wannabe lovers, misdelivered love letters and unconvincing disguises (you can almost hear Shakespeare’s later plays being written). Once that silly situation is sorted, there is of course time for a play within the play to be performed.
The joy is in watching this cast clearly having much fun with balloon puppets, or a covid-safe picture frame and other innovative solutions when performing seventeen characters who often have too much to say. Surrounded on three sides, and still working to distancing rules the company make sure to involve the audience at every opportunity with visual gags, improvised comments, audience participation, music, and imaginative use of miniature garden props.
The funniest moments of the evening arise from spontaneous interactions with the audience or clever stage business. Stuart Turner is composing a love song on his colourful ukulele when he spots some audience members walking out, most likely to the bar, but a great opportunity to have some fun: “Come on mate” joshes Turner “it’s not as bad as all that”! Grace Kelly Miller and Charlotte Worthing perform a ridiculously funny duet on a single ukulele, and Adam Courting delights when one of the improvised characters, played by a balloon puppet, bursts and he administers CPR.
Tours until 18th August,2021 at various Fuller Pub venues in London and the South East.