Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost – Botanic Gardens, Glasgow

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First published in The Times, Tuesday June 30 2015

Three Stars

Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies and its dizzying verbosity and baggy middle section does suggest a playwright still finding his fleet feet. That said, in the play’s depiction of a group of young lovers overcoming social hurdles, misunderstandings and mistaken identity to achieve a happy ending, one does find an early template, not only for the Bard’s great comedies, but for the enduring Hollywood screwball farce.

Gordon Barr’s judiciously pruned version – the first of four productions in this year’s Bard in the Botanics season – features plenty of wit and charm and a number of winning performances. If both the director and 14-strong ensemble keep the action moving along at a brisk pace, the audience is never permitted to rest on its laurels. This is the company’s first proper promenade production in three years, covering the length and breadth of Glasgow’s botanic gardens and making good use of a range of backdrops, from low-hanging tree branches to the floodlit façade of the Kibble Palace.

Robert Elkin (Moth) and Ben Clifford (King of Navarre) in Love's Labour's Lost photocredit  Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Unlike the weather – which, on opening night, remained remarkably stable – Barr’s production does take a while to settle into a compelling rhythm. The opening scene, in which we meet King Ferdinand of Navarre (Ben Clifford) and his entourage and learn of their plan to embark on three years of sexual abstinence, is particularly frustrating, with various influences clashing together to confusing effect. One or two of the more outrageous comic characterisations, including Kirk Bage’s moustachioed Don Adriano de Armado, who is saddled with an impenetrable Spanish accent, sit uncomfortably within the otherwise determinedly contemporary setting, in which women and men banter and wrangle on equal terms.

The production does gather momentum, though, and sparks into life with a string of enjoyable set pieces. The scene in which the king and his companions eavesdrop on each other’s declarations of love for the Princess of France (Stephanie McGregor) and her attendants is a beautifully choreographed piece of slapstick, as is the sequence at the Princess’s encampment, where the men come-a-courting disguised as Muscovites.

Though there are no weak links in the ensemble, the experience of the leads shows in the dense linguistic passages. James Ronan gives a passionate rendition of Lord Berowne’s paean to love that provokes spontaneous applause while Nicole Cooper also engages as his amorous opposite number. And Alan Steele and Robert Elkin, as Holofernes and Moth, provide some amusing comic detours in a production that, while not flawless, is great fun.

Box office: 0844 477 1000, to July 11. bardinthebotanics.co.uk

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