Monday, June 2, 2008

Labours Evident in This Production

After years of successful Love's Labour's Lost, Toronto Star theatre critic Richard Ouzounian thinks Michael Langham has lost his touch. 1.5 out of 4 stars:

"There's too little love and too much labour; as a result, one of Shakespeare's most haunting plays is lost.

"That's the admittedly glib, but unfortunately accurate verdict on Love's Labour's Lost, which opened at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Saturday afternoon.

"Officially, this is a production of the festival's Young Company, with some of the more senior members of the main ensemble playing the older roles. And it's worth pointing out that many of the production's failings are not the fault of the young talent on display, but the way that talent has been used.

"It sounded like an excellent idea to have Michael Langham direct. Not only was he the artistic director of the festival during 12 of its most formative years, but his 1961 production of this play, starring Paul Scofield, is generally regarded as one of the finest in Stratford's history.

"Langham returned to direct the show again with the festival's Young Company in 1983, using a sprinkling of senior company members as he did this year, which proved so successful that it was remounted in 1984.

"So what went wrong this season? The 88-year-old Langham broke his leg just before the start of rehearsals and former artistic director Richard Monette came back to supervise the first few weeks of the production.

"But perhaps even more important, 25 years have passed since the last time Langham did the play at Stratford and styles of Shakespearean production change. This story of four young lords who vow to abandon the company of women to help them concentrate on their studies, and the fantastical collection of pedants and peasants who surround them, is an early Shakespeare work, full of literary conceits and high-flown language.

"It's good to have someone with the intellectual rigour of Langham at the helm to make sure the language is spoken with clarity, but too often you feel that you're not watching a play but reading a heavily annotated edition of the text.

"This dogmatic tone, coupled with the overly fussy cavalier period costumes that Langham and his designer, Charlotte Dean, have called for, makes it seem like the young actors are wearing straitjackets – emotional as well as physical.

"As an exercise in teaching fledgling performers the rudiments of style it may be admirable, but as a production, it's not much fun to watch.

"From the more senior company members, Peter Donaldson emerges triumphant, playing the Don Quixote-esque Don Armado with style, wit and pathos. Brian Tree is also deliciously lowbrow as Costard, but most of the others are less successful. Three of the young company members make a strongly favourable impression: Trent Pardy as a foppish King of Navarre, Alana Hawley as a vixenish Princess of France and Ian Lake as a roguish Berowne.

"One of the most striking pieces of work comes from the youngest cast member: Abigail Winter-Culliford, who is only 11. She plays Don Armado's page, Moth. Her scenes with Donaldson are the best thing about the production."

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