A Shakespearean comedy, performed on a warm evening in the beautiful Cathedral Gardens at Christ Church College sounds idyllic… if only Mother Nature hadn’t chosen yesterday to put an end to the beautiful weather we’ve been having. Rough-Hewn Theatre Company has put together a cracking performance of Shakespeare’s “wittiest comedy”, and if the weather had been on side, it would have been perfect.
Originally set in Navarre – a kingdom straddling the border between Spain and France – it tells the story of the young king and his three friends who vow to devote the following three years to study, forgoing the distractions of women. Their vows are challenged by the arrival of the Princess of France and her ladies-in-waiting. The men fall in love and much comedy derives from this, as they all lie to each other whilst secretly trying to arrange liaisons with the objects of their affection.
Rough-Hewn’s take on it is set post WWI, probably in England, and for some reason, which was not explained, they dropped one of the King’s men (Longueville) from the cast and Maria, one of the ladies-in-waiting.
The main storyline is counterpointed by events involving the affected Spanish Traveller and braggart Don Armado and his page, Moth; Costard, an unsophisticated yokel and his girlfriend Jaquenetta (whom Armado also falls for); and Holofernes, a schoolmaster who is always seen with his admiring companion the curate Sir Nathaniel.
Ellie Wade played Holofernes to perfection, the pedantry of the character oozed from every pore and the scene where Holofernes decides to conduct the conversation in Latin was particularly entertaining. John Mark Philo also deserves special mention for his role as Biron, the King’s friend who is most reluctant to sign up to the vow in the first place and Michael Beale, as Don Armado, was hilarious.
Unusually for Shakespeare, the ending isn’t as tidy as usual: the Princess' father dies and she must return to France to claim the throne. The men agree to prove their love for the ladies by waiting a year for them, and during that year they will live celibate lives. There may have been a sequel planned and there is some evidence to suggest that there was a Love’s Labour’s Won, but unfortunately the script has never been found.
On a practical note, the seating – chairs on the grass – is all on one level so try and be at the front of the queue to get a good view and as the action tends to be more to the left of the stage try for seats at that side. The actors are not miked up, so you won’t be able to hear them when Great Tom belts out the hours or when the rooks in the trees decide to have a domestic, but that’s a small price to pay, enjoy!