by Lynn on September 15, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. Playing until Oct. 1, 2023.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Peter Pasyk

Set by Julie Fox

Costumes by Sim Suzer

Lighting by Arun Srinivasan

Composer and sound design, by Thomas Ryder Payne

Fight director, Geoff Scovell

Choreographer, Stephen Cota

Cast: Elizabeth Adams

Hilary Adams

Celia Aloma

Cristo Graham

Jordin Hall

Matthew Kabwe

Wahsonti:io Kirby

Qianna MacGilchrist

Chris Mejaki

Chanakya Mukherjee

Tyler Rive

Andrew Robinson

Tyrone Savage

Michael Spencer-Davis

Jane Spidell

Amaka Umeh

Hannah Wigglesworth

A stylish production envisioned by director, Peter Pasyk, in which a group of aristocratic young men vow to live to learn without distraction (without women) for three years, until they meet a group of equally aristocratic young women, who charm them.

The Story. King Ferdinand of the Kingdom of Navarre and his three companions: Longaville, Dumaine and Berowne, make a pact to remain celibate and study for three years.  There are other conditions to which King Ferdinand has his colleague agree, pertaining to how many times they may eat per day (once) and how much/little sleep they will have. To strengthen his pact, King Ferdinand decrees that no woman shall lodge within one mile of his court for the three years.

He seems to have forgotten that the Princess of France and her three ladies-in-waiting; Rosaline, Maria and Katharine are scheduled to arrive on diplomatic business on behalf of the King of France. Fortunately, Berowne is in the know (he’s the smartest (sort of) of the lot of men and knows the women are expected. He also offers logical opposition to the stringent conditions of the three years.

Matters of celibacy and scholarly study go out the window when the men see the women and their resolve dissolves. The men can’t tell each other, to save face, so they each conspire to privately write to the woman who has charmed him. The ‘situation comedy’ ramps up when a hapless messenger delivers the wrong letter to the wrong woman.

The aristocratic women have their own plans to get even with these fellows. There are also common folk who are smitten and they have their own ways of dealing with the pangs of love.

Love’s Labours Lost is a comedy with serious notes and lots of wisdom, from the women. The women tap dance rings around the men for smarts and offer a reasoned solution to these guys. One wonders if they will be wise enough to take up the challenge.   

The Production and Comment. Director Peter Pasyk, set designer Julie Fox and costume designer Sim Suzer have created a modern world of money and privilege. From the precisely shaped topiary and curved manicured lawn it looks like the leaves and grass were cut by nail scissors and not gardening shears for that perfect look. We get the sense of the size of the King of Navarre’s manor house by the huge wood doors and the two ‘impressive’ moose heads on either side of the door.

Ferdinand The King of Navarre (Jordin Hall) and his three friends: Berowne (Tyrone Savage), Dumaine (Chanakya Mukherjee) and Longaville (Chris Mejaki), gather for Ferdinand’s press conference announcement of their plans for the next three years. The men are beautifully dressed in Sim Suzer’s pastel-colour-coordinated, beautifully tailored casual suits. Every word Ferdinand says in his speech announcing his plans, is videoed as is his ‘argument’ with Berowne over the onerous conditions of the three years. As is the penchant for our world, it seems every minute of every day is recorded for posterity, only Ferdinand has servants for that.

The announcement done, Ferdinand provides ‘simple’ clothes to his colleagues and himself for their three years of simple living: it’s an ensemble of white pants, a white top, a white robe and sandals. The clothes look to be silk. I love the wit and impishness of Sim Suzer’s costumes.

When the Princess of France (Celia Aloma) arrives with her ladies-in-waiting: Rosaline (Amaka Umeh), Maria (Qianna MacGilchrist) and Katharine (Elizabeth Adams) they too make a statement about their privilege and status. They are dressed from top to toe in designer clothes and carry designer ‘bags.’  They are assisted by Boyet (Steve Ross) the Princess of France’s officious and proper majordomo.    

The women all move with that exaggerated body language that shrieks confidence and attention being paid. When Ferdinand and his colleagues are introduced to the delegation from France, the men don’t have a chance. They are totally smitten and their commitment to their oath to Ferdinand dissolves.

Love seems to have aroused the hormones of many others on Ferdinand’s estate. Don Armado (a preening Gordon S. Miller), in a chic track suit that looks like fitted pajamas, long, flappable hair, and a wonderful Spanish accent that plays fast and loose with pronouncing ‘s’ with a ‘th’, sometimes, is in love with Jaquenetta (Hannah Wigglesworth), a lusty young woman in the household. He sends her a soppy letter that is delivered to the wrong person as well.

Costard (wonderfully played by Wahsontí:io Kirby) is a grounds person who is dexterous and suggestive with a leaf blower, when in close proximity to Jaquenetta. Costard is attracted to Jaquenetta as is Don Armado. Overseeing this is mayhem is Dull who is more taciturn than dull (Jane Spidell) and Moth played with great irreverence by Christo Graham.

There to instruct the ‘scholars’ are two pedants, Holofernes (Michael Spenser-Davis) and Nathaniel (Matthew Kabwe) who attempt to one-up each other in Greek, Latin, and obscure English. They don’t appear to be in love with anyone except their own intellect.

Director Peter Pasyk has a lively sense of fun, if a bit predictable–Costard’s wayward leaf blower. Love’s Labors Lost is a great opportunity for those in the Birmingham Conservatory of the Stratford Festival, to step forward into leading roles and flex their acting muscles. Many in the cast have been trained over the years in the Conservatory. Peter Pasyk has a sensitive but firm hand in guiding his cast of young actors. And while the acting abilities are a bit uneven across the board, they are all committed.

As Ferdinand the King of France, Jordin Hall is stately, determined that his extreme idea of study for three years will succeed, and instantly thwarted when he sees the Princess of France. Both Tyrone Savage as Berowne and Amaka Umeh as Rosaline have gone from strength to strength over the years. The interplay between Berowne and Rosaline is like watching championship tennis between equals. They lob quips, volley and slam shots to make points. It’s always with the intention of illuminating their characters. Tyrone Savage and Amaka Umeh are two actors who are always compelling. As Moth, Christo Graham is irreverent to be sure, as he observes the goings on there but there is also a layer of watchful observation that goes deeper. Nothing surprises this character which makes him even funnier.

Once again, Shakespeare writes women characters who dance rings around the men for smarts, wisdom, common sense, wit, whimsy and in the end, maturity. The play is bracing and funny. For the most part, the production rises to the occasion.     

The Stratford Festival Presents:

Runs until: Oct. 1, 2023

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (approx.) (no intermission)

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.