There isn’t a pit for the groundlings at the Broad Stage, but the current production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” still gives a taste of experiencing a visit to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. The theater company, which performs at home in an authentic reproduction of the Bard’s 1599 playhouse, is in Santa Monica for a dozen performances during its U.S. tour.
Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, directs “Love’s Labour’s Lost” as he would in the “wooden O,” eliminating the fourth wall between the actors and the audience by keeping the lights on and using the entire theater as a stage. By doing so, he adds an even greater sense of playfulness and festivity to the lively comedy.
The play begins with musicians in Renaissance garb playing period instruments as they enter through the doors at the rear of the theater and walk down the aisle to the stage. Throughout the play, the actors sometimes enter and exit the stage through the audience, running up and down the aisles. One actor left the stage to sit on a man’s lap in the third row, and one couple used an empty seat for some comical amorousness. The audience instantly feels a part of the action, the jokes and the party.
The play features the King of Navarre and three friends who vow to devote themselves to three years of study without female distraction, but fall in love with the Princess of France and her three friends when they visit the court. The ensuing comedy includes love letters delivered to the wrong people, overheard confessions of love, the young men disguising themselves as Russians and the ladies switching their identities, and a play within a play.
Though one of his early works (published in 1598), the play reveals Shakespeare’s mastery in playing with language. There is also plenty of innuendo and sexuality. “‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ is one of the filthiest plays ever written,” Dromgoole once told the Independent.
The actors were obviously having an extraordinary amount of fun onstage, bringing the necessary level of enthusiastic revelry to the production. The flow of laughter, pratfalls, and puns was nearly chaotic. The play is so fast-paced that those not familiar with it could miss many lines, but still be able to follow the story. Some actors were better at projecting in the theater, and maybe some mix of that and acoustics made it harder to distinguish some lines, especially when actors were not facing the audience. But there is no doubt the actors were facile with Shakespeare’s language.
It’s hard to single anyone out, since each actor made creative choices and played up the physical humor, but the King’s men (Philip Cumbus as King Ferdinand, Trystan Gravelle as Berowne, William Mannering as Longaville, and Jack Farthing as Dumaine) made a particularly funny quartet (at times reminiscent of the Three Stooges), and Michelle Terry as the Princess of France did a fine job leading her trio. Paul Ready did an entertaining turn playing Don Adriano de Armado who is far from the brightest bulb, and Fergal McElherron as Costard (a Rustic) and Rhiannon Oliver as Jaquenetta (a Dairymaid) were energetic, bawdy, and wild.
The actors also proved to be beautiful singers, and the musicians, playing instruments like the bagpipe, frame drum, shawm and hurdy-gurdy, evoked the Renaissance with music composed by Claire van Kampen. Costumes by Jonathan Fensom were gorgeously lavish, while his set design was minimal but effective and attractive. The puppet makers, Nele de Craecker and Rupa Dauwenf, deserve a shout out for their realistic work with the deer.
I left feeling I had undoubtedly experienced the quintessential “Love’s Labour’s Lost” — and wishing London were closer to Santa Monica so that this wouldn’t be my only taste of Shakespeare’s Globe.
Remaining show times are 1 and 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 27; 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 28; and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 29. The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica, www.thebroadstage.org.