We've just had an incredible weekend. Thanks to the offices of a very good friend Spouse and I went away without the children (a treat enough in itself) to Stratford to see Love's Labour's Lost. LLL isn't a play I'm familiar with, and it could easily feel like not going to the main event, namely to see the wonderful Mr Tennant in Hamlet (which fortuitously we're also going to do in December). But it wasn't at all. If anything, I think on Saturday I had one of the best theatre experiences of my life.
It's a long long time since I've been to live theatre (apart from taking the sprogs to musicals the last couple of years, which is an entirely different experience.) This is mainly because theatre going and small children aren't very conducive, but also because living just outside London as we do, your lovely theatre experience can often end up utterly miserable thanks to the stress of getting home late at night. (I can remember one miserable trip to the Barbican with my parents many years ago, which involved us arriving at the theatre by the skin of our teeth and having a mad dash across London to get the last train home. Any enjoyment of the play had completely dissipated by the time we got home.)
However, having visited the Globe twice in the last year my latent interest in seeing Shakespeare live has been revived, and now the sprogs are old enough to see plays like A Midsummer's Night Dream, I was determined I was going to get us all there this summer. For a variety of reasons (ok, one, I didn't realise how quickly it would sell out) I failed dismally, but the two big ones are coming to Hamlet, and next year I am going to get to the Globe if it kills me. Particularly after having my appetite for the Bard whetted in such a wonderful way.
The RSC are currently treading the boards at The Courtyard Theatre, as their main theatres are under redevelopment. As this is a temporary venue, from the outside it looks like one of those corrugated iron warehouse where they store lockups with dead bodies in them. Anything less like a venue for seeing great theatre couldn't be imagined. But once inside all such worries are put to rest, because it is a wonderful fabulous, intimate space for theatre. It's also in the round, so you have people appearing from your left shoulder (DT did exit stage left of us at one point, sigh.), which I always enjoy. There's something about Shakespeare who frequently teases the audience about the artifice of it all, which lends itself well to be being shown in a small intimate setting like this. You feel almost as though they're doing a private show just for you.
And what a show it was.
I didn't know this play at all and toyed with reading it before I went, but a) I ran out of time and b) I thought it would be more interesting to go and see something where I didn't know the end, which it was.
Love's Labour's Lost isn't performed very often, and I can see why, because in a way it feels like a work in progress, as if our Will was in a hurry and said, Here, haven't quite finished it, but put it on tonight boys and I'll tidy it up for tomorrow. Without giving away the ending, it almost feels as if there's an act missing, though Berowne does make a joke about a year (which is the deadline the men get given) being too long to fit in a play. And the subplot though very funny feels as if it's tacked on, and could quite easily not be there.
The joy of this play though, to me was in the language, which is dazzling and brilliant and you wonder how on earth the actors all manage to say the lines without tripping over the words. The great thing about this performance as well was that it was incredibly accessible. It is very easy to watch Shakespeare and glaze over from the effort of trying to understand what is going on. I don't usually have that problem with plays I know, but I certainly have done with ones I'm less familiar with, and Spouse was sure he'd miss half of the references. We needn't have worried though, because without exception the cast delivered the lines so clearly and concisely it was impossible to miss the meaning.
I did find it rather distracting to watch lovely Mr Tennant at first, not just because he is just as lovely in the flesh as he is on Dr Who, but mainly because it is quite disconcerting to see someone you know so well in one role doing something so completely different. However, he is such a consummate actor, after a bit I stopped thinking I was watching Dr Who acting with a Scottish voice, but seeing Berowne. I was actually a little worried that he might not pull it off, but I needn't have been, because he was brilliant, funny, sexy, quixotic, and for the rare serious speeches he had to give he held the audience in the palm of his hand. Without a doubt he is one of the finest actors of his generation and it was an absolute joy and privilege to watch him in this.
Having said that, Love's Labour's Lost is not the David Tennant show. It really feels like a group effort. Nina Sosanya who played Rosaline really lit up the stage every time she was on it. You genuinely felt she and Berowne were meant for each other and the rather odd ending left me deeply frustrated for them. Kathryn Drysdale better known (by me anyway) as Louise in Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and a hilarious turn as a chav in St Trinians, was a huge revelation as she was funny (expected) but showed a depth I wasn't expecting. Definitely a talent to watch that one. The funniest character was undoubtedly Joe Dixon as the Spanish count, Armado, who preened and pranced his way across the stage and brought the house down when he came on playing a guitar, but Oliver Ford Davies was also hilarious as the pompous schoolmaster, Holofernes, and Ricky Champ was a memorable Costard.
The cast all seemed to be really enjoying themselves and the whole thing felt like a glorious joyous romp (well it did till you get to the odd ending, but that's Shakespeare's fault not theirs.) Time was when you went to the theatre, you used to only clap at the interval and at the end, but this felt like an audience participation event, in that the funniest moments were applauded wildly, without the thing becoming a riot.
LLL is a gloriously rude play and the sight of the milkmaid churning the butter, to Armado saying, "But I loooo-ooof her" will stay with me for a very long time. I also really enjoyed the masque where the men pitch up disguised as Russians (no I don't quite know why either!) and the women all pretended to be one another to test their love - David Tennant in a red beard doing a cossack dance was one of the highlights of the show, particularly when he put on a Borat accent.
We sat outside in the interval even though it was raining - but as I said to Spouse it was such fine rain, it felt like theatre rain, so wasn't real. It just felt magical and wonderful to be there.
Afterwards we tottered round the corner to an Indian (surreally called Thespians) and ten minutes later the whole cast walked past, though Spouse neglected to tell me he'd seen David Tennant till he'd gone by, so I only glimpsed the back of his head. You wouldn't really see that in London. Nor would you be able as we were, to totter back to our hotel and be home in ten minutes. As a theatre going experience, whatever you go to see, I'd recommend seeing it in Stratford, and am just trying to work out how I can wangle another trip...
And as an experience of seeing Shakespeare, I'd have to say that Love's Labour's Lost has to rate as one of the funniest plays I've ever seen, and my most magical theatre experience. Ever.
With grateful thanks to lovely friend who bought us tickets and looked after the children. No greater love doth a friend have etc etc. You've restored my faith in human nature.