Shakespeare shone in the sun

Love's Labour's Lost at Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens.
Love's Labour's Lost at Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens.

Heartbreak Productions’ musical adaptation of Love’s Labour’s Lost shone in the sunny gardens of Belsay Hall amid bicycles and beaded dresses.

Shakespeare’s play begins with an oath. Ferdinand, the King of Navarre, and his lords renounce food and female company for a year, dedicating their time to rigorous study. Having agreed, news travels that a French princess and her ladies have arrived at court to discuss diplomatic matters.

Inevitably, some desperate, and at times disastrous, flirting ensues, resulting in elaborate disguises and mistaken identities in an attempt to hide their oath-breaking from each other.

Actors darted commendably from one role to the next, particularly Ross Townsend Green who swished his matador cape and flicked his rapier in feisty joviality as the Spanish Dom Armado in the comedic servant sub-plot. Elsewhere, his earnest Biron was fittingly both confident and cautious when attempting to woo the French ladies.

James Edwards’ sprightly portrayal of Holofernes exuded P.G. Wodehouse, his lines enunciated clearly and charmingly when playing Ferdinand.

Victoria Croft as Rosaline was commanding in her aloofness when the disguised lords were beaten at their own game as the women masqueraded as each other.

This Shakespearean comedy is notoriously dense in its dialogue and oddly structured, but some shrewd editing on the part of Heartbreak Productions ensured it remained ordered and light.

This adaptation was set in the grounds of an Oxford University college on a balmy fresher’s week evening in the 1920s, where tennis jumpers, feather-trimmed frocks and lively dancing worked well with the green lawn and the sun-lit surroundings of Belsay’s walled garden.

Derry Pope’s musical interludes in between scenes summarised nicely what had come before, culminating with the Muscovite dance, which was a whirlwind of knitted beards and Russian exclamations. The sunny garden setting was a lively addition when actors interacted with audience members seated on deck chairs and tartan picnic rugs before and during the action.

Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost does not achieve the same comedic feat as, say, Much Ado or Twelfth Night, but director Maddy Kerr ensured that it was polished and playful.

Although Navarre’s court is initially dedicated to scholarly pursuits, later, as the summer sky turned to dusk, Heartbreak Productions effectively brought home that love is the greatest lesson of all.