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Production of The Changeling featuring Billy Connolly as Alibius - looks pretty intense...
Review of the RSC production of Love’s Labour’s Lost
As I soon as I sat down in my seat and looked upon the stage I was instantly drawn to the tree in the middle of the stage with the shards of green plastic hanging down from the ceiling, a part of the stage decorated as if some kind of grass edge and the mirrors that showed the reflection of the audience. My response/ reasoning was that this set evoked a very festive and spring like setting. The bird song music playing in the background further enhanced this idea. With the shards of green plastic hanging, looking like Christmas decorations and the tree that was quite realistic in the middle of the set as well as the picnic blankets and baskets in the opening scene, one became aware of the notion of youthfulness and playfulness that runs throughout Love’s Labour’s Lost. The garden setting, with picnic props, a swing and pillows in various scenes, the setting was a constant reminder not only of spring but of the characters youthfulness in an almost garden of eternal youth setting.
The lighting reflecting light into the shards of plastic teamed with the birdsong music seemed to suggest that it was eternally spring and everyone was happy and it was only when Mercade came that the lighting changed to a darker colour which highlighted that this was an opposite to the normally spring like, youthful and happy garden. It was here that the eternal daylight of the garden was changed to night in the form of a blue gel which made it abstract from all realistic props and lighting and emphasised Mercade representing death and death being the opposite of youth.
The tree in the middle emphasised playfulness especially in Act 4 Scene 3 when Berowne climbed the tree to eavesdrop. Climbing trees is generally associated with childhood and with the tree being in the middle of the set in a spring setting the idea of youthfulness and playfulness was induced.
The setting also emphasised the division between the men and women. Whilst the men tended to do more boisterous and solitary acts like climbing trees, running around and hiding, the women tended to sit, lie, and swing in the garden. This reinforced the gender stereotypes that Shakespeare highlighted in the play, such as, the idea that whilst the men generally acted more so as individuals, the women acted mostly always as a group.
The outside garden setting also suggested the notions of storytelling and community. Act 5 Scene 2 saw the characters sitting around in the garden watching the play within the play which emphasised the ideas traditionally associated with storytelling such as it being outside etc. In the Disguise scene there were people standing around the tree which stirred up ideas of spring and community. The use of lanterns at the end of the play with a bird flying around suggested the end of spring. Furthermore the dancing throughout the play further induced the festive atmosphere of the play as well as the background music during transitions. In addition the mirror background of the stage which reflected the reflections of the audience actually made the audience part of the play in the sense that they were the background to the play; thus, making them feel involved.
Even when the scene did not require the set and a black gel was used to black it out it was evident that such scenes were a stark contrast and suggested that these scenes and the characters in these scenes were far away from the world of youth, spring and play.
The characters costumes also coincided with the spring set. The King and Princess of France dressed in gold, Longaville and Dumaine dressed in silver and Katherine and Maria dressed in white and gold. The colours of these costumes, the gold, silver and white evoke associations of the sun, wealth, stars, innocence and happiness as well as others. The colours emphasise the themes of youthfulness, playfulness and spring. The women’s dresses had floral designs on them which emphasised spring and the association of these characters with such themes. The men were in uniform with the King’s costume and the ladies complimented the Princess’ costume. However, Berowne and Rosaline were dressed in colours which complimented each others costume but set them completely apart from the rest. With Berowne dressed in blue and Rosaline in a blue floral dress. Additionally, the male characters seemed to be in uniform with their respective partners. The only time all male characters were all uniform with each other was in the Disguise Scene (Act 5, Scene 2).
Other characters such as Armado and Moth were dressed in purple which suggests wisdom, music and luxury. They too were in uniform with each other and their costumes coincided with the scene and set. In Act 5, Scene 2 Mercade costume, being black, was a stark contrast to all the other characters and along with the night mood emphasises his role of being representative of death.
In conclusion, I thought that the set of the RSC’s production was very effective in establishing the main themes of Love’s Labour’s Lost and providing a basis to illuminate the contrasts throughout the play such as death. As a play that does not really go anywhere I think the centring of the play around the garden was successful in evoking the ideas of the pastoral as emphasising youthfulness and along with the costumes everything was clear; the colours of the costumes representing the characteristics of the individual character and their role within the play and the social climate/hierarchy of the play.
The full implications of play-watching in the round were demonstrated by my experience of Love’s Labour’s Lost: a Circle seat on the right, nearly in the roof of the Swan Theatre, provided a prime position of observation of the effect of the performance on the audience. Indeed, for me, audience participation and reaction became part of the performance long before the Nine Worthies scene: the intimate scale of the theatre meant that individuals and groups in the audience became characters in the spectacle of a David Tennant soliloquy. This interaction and observation within the audience certainly recreated the social function of seeing and being seen in the ethos of Shakespeare‘s contemporary theatre, whether in the setting of the town or the court. It also became immediately apparent that an entirely different acting style is required with this theatre construction, as compared to proscenium arch theatre; actors observed from every angle must maintain constant movement, use of every part of the stage, and variation in the direction of focus when speaking directly to the audience, in order to allow the audience, the majority of which is not in front of them, to appreciate their interpretation or even follow the play-especially considering that none, or a significantly lower proportion of the audience, would have read the text prior to watching the play. Indeed, it reflects the oral nature of the contemporary culture that what the audience heard could have been their most complete experience of the play, and certainly the element of it that the entire audience would have had the most mutually agreeing experience of. While it would be impossible to ensure that every groundling, everyone standing at the back or with an obscured or partial or skewed view saw a particularly important event or exchange, it is possible to have an entire audience hear a significant phrase. Of course, this increased emphasis on sound as a theatrical medium also gave the audience more power: just as in the performance of the Nine Worthies, they could ignore, disturb, or intimidate. Of course, Gregory Doran only had to deal with a modern Shakespearean audience, who generally have more of a reverential attitude to watching theatre live; but his production nevertheless found ways to recreate an atmosphere of dialogue between actor and audience, and an enjoyment in transgressing the boundaries between them.
The stylized props of Doran’s simple set suggested the play’s pastoral location rather than recreating it, with the tree which split the stage in half, and the hanging ropes of squares of reflective material creating leaves, abstractions rather than solid objects, allowing the set to be remade for every scene. Indeed, the range of silvers and greys used to colour it was particularly receptive to the lighting which marked the various shifts in tone, whether taking on the festive warmth of the lamps for the cumulative scene, or the more chilling half-light of Marcade’s entrance. These two props were often used for comic effects which undermined the gravity and integrity of the fantasy world created on stage, whether when Don Armado has to duck under the tree, or the King manages to pull the branches into a different position to form a “bush” to hide behind. Instead of reinforcing the suspension of disbelief, and making this imaginary world easier to accept, these props become the physical reminders of the play as a play: appropriate for a work in which accepted narrative norms, and linguistic forms, are constantly subverted. Significantly, the Nine Worthies’ production values are interpreted as being significantly more lavish than Doran’s; a departure from other productions, in which the bumbling characters’ efforts are more slapdash. In this production, however, it is ridiculous to argue that, in what seems to be a few hours, elaborate costumes incorporating exotic mounts have been constructed for a spontaneous entertainment; the ability to fully suspend your disbelief is an irrelevant one where the pure enjoyment of a conspiratorial self-consciousness is so fully exploited. Fittingly, although the actors expend so much more energy attempting to make their costumes “realistic”, using elaborate visual illusions such as Moth’s snake, in order to awe and impress an audience, this cannot protect them against an audience which refuses to be lectured to. Ultimately, it is the failure to speak and be heard, in spite of the most impressive exterior factors, which becomes the criteria for dramatic authority - and authenticity - in Doran’s production.
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This review focuses on characterisation, voice and speech, and a brief comment on tonal shifts.
Gregory Doran’s interpretation of Love’s Labour’s Lost presented the audience with a raucous comedy and made full use of the basic elements of each character as provided by Shakespeare to explore their personalities. The lack of action within the play itself provided the director with the tools to flesh out the relatively blank canvases of the textual characters and he did so by firmly individualising each character.
As the lead David Tennant’s Berowne was, from the first scene, set apart from the others. The King, Dumaine and Longaville all wore complimenting Elizabethan outfits of soft and pale colours, flattering and fitting neatly in with each other as their respective parts in the play do. Berowne’s dress was in contrast, a dusky blue outfit that set him apart from the other males reflecting his lines and often his standing in the play itself. In my opinion, this accurately reflected his individuality within the text itself and his cheeky resolve to continue being separate, better, ‘above’ the others – represented by placing him within the tree above his fellow actors in the comical overheard scene - thought this has been seen in previous productions. Doran’s direction of Berowne also ensured that Tennant made full use of the stage. Though the tree is expected the stage was otherwise clear and Berowne often crossed it from side to side, at one point attempting to flee from the other male characters as his letter to Rosaline was instead delivered to the King. He also took to centre stage for the lengthiest speech of the play while it seemed the King, Dumaine and Longaville almost joined the audience as they sat at the front edge of the stage. Berowne’s accent also served to separate him from his male counterparts. Though the others all sported upper-class accents in accordance with the gentility of their characters, Berowne’s accent was of a northern twang, bringing to life a mischievous dimension within his character that seemed especially alive when relating with his ‘love’ Rosaline.
Rosaline was another character set apart from her female accomplices as her outfit is also made to a differing style. With a motif – most likely to be flowers – she often stood aside from the other characters just as Berowne stood aside. Yet as the Princess, Maria and Kate’s dress complemented each other and also the outfits of the King, Dumaine and Longaville – it is not so with Rosaline and Berowne. Instead their outfits clashed just as their wits were pitted against each other. This is also evident in the scene were the Princess, her ladies and the males are presented with the Nine Worthies. Here Berowne and Rosaline are the only two to sit separately – though near each other – as the King, Dumaine and Longaville each position themselves closely to the woman they love. This is almost a foreshadowing of the separation the characters will suffer in the following scene.
Doran used speech and accents to further separate the characters. The lower class characters of Jaquenetta, Costard and Dull included broad accents that spoke of their backgrounds. Though the text made little reference of the implied sexual relationship between Jaquenetta and Costard it was strongly evident to the audience as the lascivious side of the character of Costard was brought firmly to life, partly with the physical contact he initiated with Jaquenetta and partly with the thrusts and other sexual movements that accompanied his lines.This seemed a little contrived and I felt that some of the genius of Costard's lines was lost within the all too obvious hand gestures.
Voice and speech also came to life within the character of Don Armado. The text itself makes no reference to any accent that he may have possessed but within the play he was portrayed as a blundering, pompous and bombastic character, making lofty comments with a strong Spanish accent. His clothing was also in opposition with the other males, made of a rich textured purple cloth. Often his entrances were accompanied by Spanish music and the character as presented by Doran is easily mocked. This would have been in accordance to the usual mockery made of Spanish characters in the 16th century. Perhaps not overly inventive but quite effective in generating laughs from the audience.
The individualisation of Boyet on stage also fit in with his lines and position within the play. As the only character to freely cross from the male camp to the female camp, he is also the only character to come into contact with every other character at differing points. Doran presented the audience with the character of Boyet as one that seemed effeminate, often found laughing mockingly with female characters at the males’ attempt of wooing the Princess and her ladies. His spacing on stage also reflected his alliance to the Princess by habitually positioning himself with her when they met the males. In the scene were they are presented with the play as put together by the lesser characters he also sits with the Princess and the King.
Lastly, the play can mostly be viewed as an interpretation of the comedic aspect of the text, though Doran brings about a sharp tonal shift within the final scene when Marcade enters the stage. Set right at the point of boisterous game-playing as the actors on the stage throw about the ‘dishclout’ the darkly robed figure of Marcade brings about a sudden end to the innocent comedic banter of previous scenes. Hi sombre voice and lack of facial expression was accompanied by the changing lighting on stage, which became a twilight colour of purple instead of the rosy oranges and reds that had lit the stage in previous scenes. Certainly, ‘the scene begins to cloud’.
I just wanted to say that now all the names should be on the list so that everybody should be able to post their reviews!
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This review will focus on both characterisation and the relationship between the cast and the audience.
Prior to the new run of Love's Labour's Lost’s beginning, much of the critical speculation centred on David Tennant being handed the prominent role of Biron whilst simultaneously playing the title role in Hamlet - sometimes on the same day, in the case of Saturday matinee/evening performances, a feat made all the more impressive by his having garnered exceptional reviews for both performances. My first thoughts after seeing the production were that perhaps the surrounding hype had affected Tennant’s performance: In almost every scene, he struts roguishly about the stage, pausing after each wisecrack or innuendo to enjoy the audience’s laughter that he knows is coming. One critic even noted a wink at a female audience member after a particularly saucy gibe, as if Tennant wished to share with them the idea that it was all a bit of a game, that Biron didn’t really mean to be disparaging (deceit and disguise are of course key tropes in the play), and that he knew she’d still go out and buy his Doctor Who box set for Christmas. He reminded me deliciously of Toby Stepehens’ performance in Jonathan Kent’s recent revival of Whycherley’s The Country Wife, where another household name renowned for his aplomb in period pieces, as well as his malevolent Bond villain played a Restoration gallant with comedic flair and knowing wit.
This could be taken as evidence of weakness in Tennant’s temperament, perhaps; an inability to act the fool in love seriously, or perhaps using the role as a little light relief from the more serious business of playing Hamlet. One critic harshly dismissed the RSC’s decision to cast Tennant as Biron as mere celebrity theatre, with the RSC focusing on bums-on-seats rather than the integrity of the work. There is an undeniable feeling that the play felt a little like a star vehicle for Tennant at times - attention spans notably dipped in the scenes when Biron wasn’t on stage, and only Joe Dixon’s Armado comes close to evoking the same level of audience reaction to his comic (in Armado’s case, unintentionally so) wordplay. Tennant seems to have been given more than a little free reign with his interpretation of the character, playing him more sympathetically than other actors may have chosen to, as more of a wry, knowing gallant than an eloquent but hypocritical fop. It is notable that Tennant uses his native accent here, unlike during his acclaimed performance as Hamlet.
Perhaps this atmosphere had rubbed off on the rest of the cast as well, since none of the other actors, save perhaps the queen of France - who has fewer witty lines, and provides the play’s only real moment of pathos - approached their role with anything like a straight face. There were even pantomimic overtones at times, and not just in the uproarious farce of the players’ pageant of the Worthies - the Muscovite disguises of act five in particular were played out with glorious silliness. Any question of Tennant’s performance as two-dimensional are buried, however, by his flawless recital of Biron’s “Have at you, then, affection’s men at arms” speech. When he declares “Let us once lose our oaths to find ourselves”, the audience wants to cheer along with his compatriots, as Tennant’s rhetorical brilliance overcomes the speech’s obvious logical flaws.
Perhaps Gregory Doran’s production is simply playing for laughs, but it’s hard to blame it for doing so when faced with such frivolic source material; the play lacks the motor of a linear plot, or well known source material to focus the audience’s attention when the events wanders off course. The fact that the production feels so fluent is then a testament to his direction. Doran seems to run with the idea that this is not a play that can be acted out in any other way than farce (echoing one reading of the play as Shakespeare’s comment on the futility of worrying about life and love), and he manages to orchestrate it beautifully. The fourth wall is well and truly shattered - in actuality, thanks to the RSC’s wonderfully adaptable stage at the Courtyard Theatre, the actors frequently run straight through it, entering and exiting through the wings. There was perhaps a lingering sense that the audience were laughing more at the stagemanship of the cast and the timing of the set pieces (or perhaps simply because their neighbours were, as one of my friends suggested) than the jokes themselves; the play is verbose and difficult to follow if it hasn’t been read. But the cast succeed in arousing more emotions than just humour, and make the curiously unsatisfying end feel at least like a reasoned conclusion to the preceding mish mash of events. All things considered, the run is an excellent revival.
First of all, @everybody: For those of you who haven't read my relevant comment to my first entry above yet: In order to be able to create an entry to the blog you will (unfortunately, and I'm really sorry about that!!) first have to send me a short email with your name in order to add you to a list of authors eligible to post entries!
Now for my review of Wednesday's performance:
‘Who’s Who?’, asks the RSC’s programme for Love’s Labour’s Lost, discussing the ‘elaborate guessing games’ which have been played amongst Shakespeareans for a long time trying to “identify” some of the play’s characters as representations of historical figures – from ‘Holofernes as John Florio’, ‘Armado as Walter Ralegh’ and ‘Boyet as George Chapman’ to ‘Berowne as Shakespeare’ and ‘Rosaline as the Dark Lady’. Although admitting that there is some plausibility to some of this speculation, the editors by and large try to stress that most of it is more than disputable and that the whole field is highly dangerous terrain littered with hardly conclusive evidence.
But from the very moment especially Armado and Boyet first enter the stage of Gregory Doran’s actual production, however, the resemblances to contemporary illustrations of Raleigh and Chapman are blatantly obvious – from Raleigh’s feathered hat, impressive beard, and huge ruff to Chapman’s signature bald patch and beard as well as his “antiquing” dress, reminding us of his major source of fame, the translations of Homer. Undoubtedly, Armado could just as well simply be seen as the Elizabethan stereotype of a Spaniard, and the perception of Boyet as a Chapman look-alike is similarly determined by our previous knowledge of either the play’s critical history or the RSC-booklet’s overview; but it is precisely this kind of wilful predetermination which together with the RSC’s openly sceptical attitude makes this stylistic device so intriguing. And, in my opinion, it impressively succeeds in conveying an attitude towards the play, which I sensed throughout, of exploiting its design – as well as its critical history! – centring on pretence and extreme ambiguity: The production openly and willingly allows all the half-truths, clichés, and overstatements to penetrate the play, obviously fully confident that a play which has its last, honest, heartfelt, and rewarding lines spoken by its most dubious character, can not be harmed by doing so.
The issue of costume is also a very interesting one when looked at in comparison to stage and props. While the costumes are without exception “authentically” modelled after (stereotypical ideas of) Renaissance dress, the stage on the other hand shows many features so characteristic of (post-)modern theatre: bare and monochromatic, remaining unchanged throughout the play, and highlighted only by a single dominant prop; here, of course, that huge tree draped with rather futuristic leaves of coloured glass, whose roots seemed to have violently burst through the stage floor. By establishing this stark contrast between richly decorated costume and sparse décor, the production succeeds in achieving two major effects.
First, it provides an ambitious attempt to reconstruct parts of the nature of early modern performance; which, of course, is a rather obvious choice given the Royal Courtyard’s theatre-in-the-round character placing the action in the centre of the auditorium. A major achievement of this kind of stage design is an increasing awareness of the conventionalized artificiality of the theatre and the concessions we therefore accept as spectators; or, put the most positive of ways: it reminds us how much we really delight in activating our power of imagination again and again, transforming this restricted, artificial space in our middle into a world in its own right for some hours. This effect is further added to by the cast – especially David Tennant – extensively drawing on the possibilities thus provided to interact with the audience, temporarily suspending as far as possible the distinction between us, the audience, here and the stage there. In the end, pushing this system called “theatre” thus far towards its limits solely results in its impressive self-affirmation when that instantly perceptible chill passes through the audience at the moment of Marcadé’s entrance, with just the lights suddenly fading and a spot on the messenger of death.
Secondly, and finally, Doran’s reading emphasizes one of the play’s major arguments, suggesting that a “green world” like that of Henry‘s court – designed in opposition to the “course of nature” by propagating the superiority of intellectual to bodily needs – cannot be of long continuance; for while the tree’s glassy artificiality points to its fragile, human-made constructedness, its roots which have broken through the ground on which it bears its perishable fruit make clear that “common nature” cannot be repressed and will inexorably force its way back into any environment trying to do so.