While we’ve all likely seen a Shakespeare play or two in our school trip days, maybe even performed some, I recently had the pleasure of a performance experience. Specifically, an amateur dramatics production of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, held in the open air on Brownsea Island. It was an experience that I’d readily repeat. Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of Shakespeare’s least performed, perhaps because of how unusual it is in comparison to plays of the same time, such as Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Nights Dream. It’s a word-play and innuendo filled comedy of two acts, with an unusual ending.
Every year, this “AmDram” group performs a different Shakespeare play on the island. What makes this different from just another show is that it’s very much an inclusive evening out. Combining the boat journey to the island with drinks, food and a visual extravaganza that is inclusive of all ages. I went with my mother and some family friends, but there were lots of families, couples and other groups around.
The evening started with a short twenty-minute boat ride over to the island. In the warm weather it was nice to be on the top deck, with the sun setting around us. At this time of the evening there were lots of people boating and windsurfing around the harbour, and us. It was a beautiful view, rushing along the glinting sea as the sky turned from bright blue to soft orange. This was only heightened by a crisp little tumbler of white wine (bought with me from home). Perfect start.
I don’t often get the chance to be on a boat, so this rare occurrence made it all the more exciting. Making the most of the weather, we sat at the front of the top deck and relaxed. I haven’t read the play and didn’t know any more than what I’d read in a quick Google search, so I was calmly excited. I had no expectations about how good or bad the production would be, so was able to have a “take it as it comes” approach.
Upon arrival you could see old stone buildings, little homes that seemed like they were the first houses built there; solid and reliable. We disembarked and walked along gravel and dirt paths a short way to a small field, enclosed by forest trees. The area was already filled with people sat in small groups enjoying picnics, with wine and beer on the grass, amongst the very friendly Peacocks, which roamed around the groups (having numerous pictures taken of them). For about an hour we chatted and ate in the open air, the only noise being the talk of the people around us. About half an hour before the show was due to start, two men appeared in the field in period dress, with trumpet and parchment. “A proclamation from the Kingdom of Navarre!” Luckily they do this two/three times around the field so you don’t have to strain the hear them. The speech was quite funny, telling us to switch off our mobile phones, for there is no more heinous a crime in this kingdom as that noise.
I’d never been to an outdoor performance of Shakespeare, or anything else for that matter, so whilst I had no expectations, we did have to consider the possibility of rain and the onset of the cold once the sun was down. Luckily it was rain-free, so we were able to enjoy the performance with the nice, simply decorated exterior, on comfortable enough plastic seats. There was seating on three sides and the stage in the middle and on the forth side. The staging itself was interesting as it consisted of one main, single set piece, that had a balcony with stairs (made to look like books) down to the stage area, with a doorway directly underneath. The book theme continued with small books used to make up the columns that the balcony rested on. The only other staging, other than a decorated back wall, was a stone fountain (or something that looked it). Water not included.
Plot Overview: The King Ferdinand of Navarre and his Lords take an oath of abstinence from women; essentially no talking, no touching, no being near them at all, in order to help them focus on studying. Unfortunately, Lord Berowne reminds the King that the Princess of France is set to visit his kingdom. Naturally, he says they can sleep in the castle grounds; something the Princess and her ladies don’t take too kindly to. This leads the Lords to fall in love with the Ladies in waiting, and attempt to woo them in amusing and secretive ways.
Interspersed within the main story are a couple of subplots. One features Costard, the witless wonder, whose main motivation is skating through life and trying to have a good time while doing it. He opens the play trying (successfully it seems), to have his way with Jaquenetta, the local wench. The two actors who played these characters were wonderful. Costard was engaging, expressive and got the audience to laugh at the right moments. Jaquenetta… oh if I could have this women’s giggle of cheeky laughter as my text tone I would! She did the best performance of sexy/coy/flirty I’ve ever seen. They played off each other so well.
The other main subplot that I engaged with was Don Adriano de Armondo and his page, Moth. Adriano is a ridiculous and comical Spaniard, with a heart full of romance and a brain full of a kind heroism…but not much else. Whilst his attempts to obtain the affections of Jaquenetta are endearing, his finest scenes were with show-stealer Moth; played by a seventeen year old who could pass for thirteen. Moth’s timing, tone, delivery, clarity and intonation were impeccable. He got an extra loud cheer from our merry group at the close.
Now, I should cover the ending of the play, because it made me think.
The characters are in loving couples (apart from Armand who loses out to Costard), when the Princess learns that her father has died and so she must return to her homeland to rule. When the Lords declare their love for their ladies, they aren’t quite convinced. The women decide that the men must wait a year. Only then, if their love is still as strong, can they be together. And so it ends. With us not knowing what happens, but hoping it all worked out. I like this because it lets the piece stand alone; in a world of sequels and three-quels it’s nice to get just a glimpse of part of a story, using your imagination for the rest.
There is a different show by the same performance group every year, details on the website http://www.brownsea-theatre.co.uk/ – with the show running for about a week each year.
The boat ride to the island is free with tickets, but bring your own food.
Put the date in your diaries for next year.