Love's Labour's Lost has its own magic, but it unlocks its secrets for few directors. I have been fortunate enough to see three-and only three-fine productions, widely spaced across the years. The latest and best of these is the one currently playing to enthusiastic audiences in the New Fortune Theatre at UWA. The first of the three was John Bell's at the Sydney Opera House's theatre in 1974, not long after the Opera House opened. The second was Kenneth Branagh's 1990 film for Miramax. So here we are again, in 2012, seeing the old beauty coming to vibrant life once more.
The fact that this is an allegedly amateur production-in the cast are performing for love and not for professional fees-is irrelevant. The director, Grant Malcolm, has decades of intensive and successful experience with his craft. The actors are mostly trained performers and budding professionals, the majority of them deriving either from the WA Academy of the Performing Arts, the Theatre Studies programme at the University of Notre Dame Australia in Fremantle, or from UWA (which is host to the Graduate Dramatic Society commonly known as Grads). It is a sad judgement upon all the newspapers of WA that they are so infected with old-fashioned and passé snobbery that nothing other than productions they proclaim "professional" will gain their attention.
Grant Malcolm uses the full range of the marvellous New Fortune stage. There is ample space for his exquisitely choreographed scenes. Much of the meaning is conveyed by business rather than diction, simply because the words are difficult: this was one of Shakespeare's earliest comedies and he was showing off his rhetorical skills and dazzling verbal brilliance without restraint. A modern production must either cut savagely or find ways to carry the meaning through action: Grant Malcolm has chosen the better path, which is to keep as many of the words as possible.
The witty and wonderful set design, which includes lofty palm trees made out of great columns of books, recalls the languid elegance of the 1930s, that period between two world wars when civility and style reigned briefly between outbreaks of insane international self-obliteration. All three of the modern productions I have mentioned choose this period and it is indeed appropriate. The play speaks of war before its opening and more is hovering in the air at its conclusion. All this is in the play too: we never quite know whether sexual love will win over less constructive channels for aggression and domination, for at the end the romantic resolution is deferred for a year's testing of the testosterone-driven young blades who are eager to possess their equally desiring beloveds.
The principles play as a tightly choreographed ensemble. The four young noblemen and their four young ladies work as a team in the stately dance of courtship. Patrick Barton is very much the young King of Navarre, suave beyond his years, but also endearingly naïve in his desire to establish a celibate academy. Sarah McKellar is every bit his match as the gracious but canny princess who, as it turns out, is thinking more about gaining the throne of France than a husband, however much she yearns for Navarre. The figure of perky Lord Berowne tends to take over any production and Adam Perkins almost does so here, for he is a fine and versatile actor, but he is careful to keep within the ensemble. Other notable performances include the Lady Maria, graciously presented in movement and voice by Caitlin Alford; Jonathan Best as a very clownish Costard; Jeff Watkins as a crazed Spaniard; and, far from least, Therese Cruise as Jaquenetta, the wench who is no better than she ought to be and yet, in the concluding song sings with such beauty that she brings the audience close to tears.
I enjoyed this play so much that I saw it twice. Happy are those who will see it even once.
A fully staged and costumed production tracing the musical and theatrical collaboration between W.S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan and Richard D'Oyly Carter
The story is narrated by Richasrd D'oyly Carte and the action alternates between rehearsal and performance mode presenting excerpts from all 13 Savoy operas.
At times sad, but frequently witty, this show could just as easily be titled " G & S - all the best bits"
Written & Directed by Donna and Andrew Foote this show presents all the joy and colour expected of a full Gilbert & Sullivan production