Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Botanic Gardens, Glasgow (Daily Telegraph)

Love’s Labour’s Lost, Bard in the Botanics Festival Glasgow, review: ‘wonderfully over-the-top’

Scotland’s festival of Shakespeare got off to a great start and sent Mark Brown home smiling

Bard in the Botanics, Glasgow’s annual summer Shakespeare festival, which is performed in the open and covered spaces of the city’s botanic gardens, is a little cultural gem. Although its outdoor productions are subject to the unpredictable Scottish weather, its delightfully diverse, four-play programme offers the perfect blend of informality and professionalism.

This year’s presentations include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice and Richard II. However, the festival kicked-off in earnest with the relatively neglected comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Played in promenade in four locations within the gardens, Gordon Barr’s modern dress production does admirable service to one of Shakespeare’s early comic dramas. In the play, Ferdinand, King of Navarre, swears himself and his noblemen to three years of study, fasting and, crucially, abstinence from the company of women.

No sooner has he signed the fateful decree than Ferdinand is reminded of the forthcoming visit of the Princess of France and her ladies. The King’s honour to his own law now sits in opposition to the demands of hospitality and diplomacy, whilst the attractions of the women threaten to make hypocrites of Ferdinand and his gentlemen of court.

This main plot ticks along nicely, but the related sub-plot, involving the hypocritical Spanish aristocrat Don Armado, is funnier. A figure of ridicule for Shakespeare on account of the failure of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Armado is played here with wonderfully over-the-top ludicrousness by Kirk Bage.

Kirk Bage as Armado. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Kirk Bage as Armado. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

The Don’s public moralising clashes with his lust for the “country wench” Jaquenetta (Tori Burgess, a bold, 21st-century, working-class teenager a la Catherine Tate). Meanwhile the loquacious schoolmaster Holofernes (played as a fabulously pompous, old-style Scottish teacher, complete with deerstalker hat, by the excellent Alan Steele) offers another rich channel of comedy.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is not, in truth, among the Bard’s finest comedies; it compares poorly, in terms of structure and humour, with Twelfth Night, for example. Director Barr has cut the play a little (rolling the character of Jaquenetta’s lover Costard into that of Robert Elkin’s beautifully played, cocky servant Moth, for instance), and yet it still drags occasionally, not least in the saggy conclusion.

Nonetheless, it is testament to Barr and his fine cast that this slightly truncated version of a somewhat difficult comedy sends its audience home with smiles on their faces.   

 For full details of the Bard in the Botanics 2015 season, visit: bardinthebotanics.co.uk

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on June 28, 2015

© Mark Brown

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