Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost gives you everything you expect from a romantic comedy – plenty of laughs, a touch of slapstick and quite a few caricature-esque characters. What it lacks perhaps, is a relishing of Shakespeare’s language and just a touch more professionalism.
The atmosphere is beautiful – an in-the-round theatre within a park, with a balmy breeze drifting over the audience as they sit on picnic rugs and enjoy glasses of wine. The show begins as the actors melt into the audience and interact with them, which serves as a clever introduction to the characters. The actors then move into the first of many musical numbers – which rile up the audience with hilarious renditions of ‘Time After Time’ and ‘God Only Knows What I’d Be Without You’. Surprisingly these songs serve the plot well, and are one of the highlights of the performance. The consistent ukulele playing and enthusiastic singing gel the production together with a sense of fun and spontaneity. Though the songs are not polished, they add an element of great fun.
Alongside these songs, the production shows itself to be family-friendly and self-aware through replacing Shakesperean locations with ones more familiar – Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. The audience relishes these moments of humour, and can easily follow the storyline as each character had their name sewn onto their costumes. Perhaps a little obvious, but it certainly makes the play accessible to the myriad of ages sitting in the audience. There is a real sense of well-meaning fun to the style of slapstick and caricature comedy.
The cast overall is strong, with Lord Biron (Callum Mackay), Boyet (Adam Canny) and Costard (Henry O’Brien) as standouts. Mackay plays Biron with a captivating school boyish mix of charm and crude humour, and his high energy elevates the scenes between him and the daughters of the Princess of Perth (Rebecca Morton). O’Brien brings great presence and comic timing to the role of Costard, so much so that they often steal the scene from other cast members. Canny too has his comic timing nailed – an unbeatable resource in this fast-paced romantic comedy.
However I find myself wishing for more emphasis and passion for Shakespeare’s language. There is a tendency to skip over phrases, or not properly give them their meaning. Some further enunciation and time given to these words would have made the performances just that bit stronger.
Though the production loses some clean structure towards the end, this performance overall was full of farcical, young humour that clearly resonates with the audience. If you are a Shakespeare purist this may not please, but if you are up for a family friendly production with good humour and strong acting, this is for you.
Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost runs from the 2 – 17 March 2019 at Central Park.
Photo credit: Burke Photography