‘Love Labour’s Lost’ was rambunctious.
If you’ve experienced the sensation of love, then you’d know it’s a fickle sensation that can whip you into questioning every fibre of your being. Footlight Theatrical Inc.’s production of ‘Love Labour’s Lost’ replicates this feeling in a high-octane musical romp.
‘Love Labour’s Lost’ follows a King (William Boyd) and his companions swearing to forsake women’s delights during a five-year college reunion to prioritise their studies. However, tensions arise when four women from the past unexpectedly pop back into their lives. Intermixed with a Spanish exchange student Don Armado (Dan Konstantinos) and performance art aficionado professor Holofernes (Tammy Sarah Linde), what follows is a coming-of-age romp exploring love against chastity.
‘Love’ has its origins seeped in good old Shakespeare, with the initial hypotext being theorised sometime in the mid-1590s. Subsequently, the first iteration of this musical iteration premiered in New York as part of the Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park series in 2013, with a book adaptation by Alex Timbers and songs by Michael Friedman. Nearly a decade later, Footlights Theatre Inc. has remounted the modernised text for a Queensland audience right in Seven Hills at the Ron Hurley Theatre.
Technical elements greatly added to the themes and atmosphere of the performance. Ian Johnson’s set design of a long stark white house, two pillars and an empty jacuzzi symbolically affirmed the stakes of chastity vs passion. Rueben Stewart’s lighting design similarly contributed to the mood of the piece, with an overall blue denoting the book and heightened colours to indicate love, passion, and lust depending on each character’s circumstances. As a result, each component allowed a framework for the usual Shakespearian stakes.
Direction by Roslyn Johnson was animated. The decision to highlight the slapstick nature of each character’s predicament allowed audiences ample opportunities to laugh. Because of it, there was a tinge of cheekiness that further reaffirmed the world of the production. When synthesising with Jaide Camilleri’s choreography, the physical nature of the production made executing the musical beats of ‘Love’ more dynamic. As a result, the cast all were equally able to embody the sensibilities of the musicality of each scene.
When it came to the lyrical nature of the songs itself, the production felt slightly stiff. A large component of this is due to Friedman’s initial songs, as they have a quality that already feels dated in their metatextual comment. It may have felt innovative in 2013 but now rings hollow. Furthermore, the choice to allow the actors to mouth swear words felt jarring from the Shakespearian roots. This remains a small drawback to an otherwise lively effort by Footlights Theatrical Inc.
The full ensemble was in top form. Each performer managed to communicate a jovial sense of play alongside deep familial bonds in their archetypes.
Andrew Engelsmann as Berowne, Boyd as King, Adam Goodall as Dumaine and Jack Barrett as Longaville each gave committed performances, balancing their chemistry and group dynamic with poise. It was believable that they were reunited college buddies trapped in the masculine plight of fighting their feelings, particularly in songs such as ‘Are You a Man’ and ‘Young Men’.
Similarly, Sarah Engelsmann as Princess, Samantha Graham as Rosaline, Amelia Burton as Maria and Sam Mclaughlin as Katherine pulled off a fun chaotic foil to their male counterparts. Their chemistry was on full display during Act One’s ‘Hey Boys’, which was crucial in setting the mood. Each subsequent scene of them together brought a feeling of playfulness.
Joining them was Nicholas Sayers as Boyet, who brought a straight man dynamic to the feminine wackiness of Princess’s troupe. Boyet’s presence was necessary for grounding the piece, and Sayer successfully rose to the task.
Kostantinos as Don Armado and Isaac Brown as Moth were equal parts camp and charming. Both performers were unafraid in embracing the ridiculousness of their roles, generating plenty of laughs from the audience. This was essential in balancing the text, as Armado’s grand romantic gestures towards Jaquenetta (Rhona Bechaz) with Moth’s emotional support were measured in juxtaposing the restrictive nature of other characters in ‘Love’. Konstantino’s rendition of Jaquenetta is a stand-out and sure to stick in the audience’s heads once they leave the theatre.
Isaac Tibbs as Costard, Hannah Macri as Dull and Rechaz as Jaquenetta added dimensionality to the piece. Each performer brought a serviceable light to the nature of the Shakespearian ensemble, layering the text beyond something that could be considered a smaller role. This was highlighted through songs complaining about the carelessness of rich people at the tail-end of Act One.
Rounding out the cast was Linde as Holofernes, Ashleigh Cates as Nathaniel and Mady Flatters as Mercade. Using their brief yet necessary stage time with grand efficiency, Linde, Cates and Flatters were small but welcome additions in how they added outrageous amounts of camp to the world of Footlight Theatrical’s production, compared to the other ensemble members.
Overall, ‘Love Labour’s Lost’ is a hearty crowd-pleaser sure to leave audiences in fits of laughter. Johnson’s directorial intent was to create a chaotic collision of outrageous irreverent style on a large dynamic scale. With eccentric characters, poppy tunes and fearlessness in embracing the Bard’s silly side, Footlights Theatrical Inc. has done a tremendous job in staging this adaptation.
‘Love Labour’s Lost’ performs until Sunday, 25 June 2023 at Ron Hurley Theatre, Seven Hills Hub. For more information visit their website.