Love’s Labour’s Lost
London School of Musical Theatre at the Union Theatre, Southwark
The play: William Shakespeare
Book adapted by Alex Timbers
Songs by Michael Friedman
Director: Franny Anne Rafferty
Cast: James Loynes, Rory Connolly, Olivia Moloney, Eleanor Hassall, Ellie McAspurn, Lily Armstrong, Saskia Paris, Helene Mathiesen, Mati Zarini, Lewis Tulloch, Chloe King, Nicole Murray, Emma Jane Fearnley, Becky Ambridge, Lauren Hurst, Sophie Bailey, Charlotte Elise, Anna Lee, Ciara Hudson, Samantha Lea-Stewart
Running time: 2 hours, including interval
Dates of run: Oct 17-22
In our angst-ridden age, the thirst for the tonic of musical theatre seems almost unquenchable.
Even so, it’s a bold decision to stage the less well-known parts of the repertoire. Happily, the Union Theatre, with a long track record of low-budget, high-value musicals, together with the life-affirming London School of Musical Theatre, is willing to take the risk.
This exuberant take on Love’s Labour’s Lost does not yet rank alongside Kiss Me Kate and West Side Story as one of the established great Shakespearean adaptations, and, for me, its songs, however witty and wonderful at the time, are less memorable.
But, under Franny Anne Rafferty’s direction, the labours are very far from in vain: a potentially remote comedy, based on the gap between idealism and reality, becomes rousingly relevant, especially with its jarring final tragedy of a royal death, and we have no problem accepting the blend of the colloquial and the classical.
Apart from the gender-blurring that has become a staple of contemporary theatre, meaning women take on male roles in an inversion of Elizabethan practice, the production draws out the play’s satire of the rich and privileged, telling us they don’t pay taxes and get body waxes, and turns the male need for female society into a feminist triumph.
Above all, the youthful cast makes a case, powerful in a post-lockdown context, that the young need to be allowed to have fun.
Kudos goes to all the performers, including the band, for the whole-hearted energy and well-rehearsed discipline as well as animal spirits they bring to the show.
Lewis Tulloch gets special mention for whipping up the comic momentum with his uproarious Don Armado. James Loynes is a mellifluous king and Rory Connolly as Berowne makes his own lines that are true of so many fresh graduates taught useless skills, such as “to care too much what people say”.
In a production that acknowledges so vividly the follies of the supposedly scholarly elite, the rustics dazzle.
Nicole Murray as Dull is anything but and, as Costard, Emma Jane Fearnley, one of several women in male roles, relishes the chance to parody some of the more ludicrous aspects of male behaviour.
Barbara Lewis © 2022.