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Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Learning Love's Labours

Love’s Labours Lost
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Marti Maraden
Featuring Ian Lake, Alanah Hawley, Peter Donaldson, Steven Sutcliffe, Brian Tree, John Vickery

The Story: After swearing off women and other “frivolous” pursuits in favour of acadaemia, the King of Navarre and his friends belatedly realize they are expecting a visit from the lovely Princess of France and her pretty friends. Secretly in love with the ladies, each of the lords try to keep the others from discovering their affections, lest they be accused of breaking their vow, while the old Spaniard Don Armado has his own dilemma – he too has taken the vow but finds himself unexpectedly in love with the country girl, Jaquentta. He sends the fool Costard to give Jaquenetta a love letter, but Costard gives her the one lord Berowne meant for the lady Rosaline, and soon the lords are trying to keep faith with their vow while still managing to court the ladies.

Hooray for the return of a “young company” show, to showcase the talents of the theatre stars of tomorrow. This production of Love’s Labour’s Lost is given to the most recent graduates of the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre Training. The eight actors play the eight ‘leading’ roles of the Lords of Navarre and Ladies of France, with members of the veteran acting company generously taking a supporting role. This is something that the Festival has done in the past under artistic director Robin Phillips, and since one tends to learn more by doing rather than by watching, this is an exciting opportunity for these young actors to stretch their wings.

That being said, they could be stretched a great deal further than they as yet show. Of the eight, two actors stand out, that of Ian Lake playing Berowne, and Alanah Hawley playing the Princess of France. They are easy to watch, clear in their delivery and where Ms. Hawley had a commanding presence reminiscent of Seana McKenna, Mr. Lake exudes the charm seen in other recent BCCT graduates like Gordon S. Miller (appearing in this production in the supporting role as a Forester). Even though Rosaline is a great part for a young woman, Dalal Badr does not yet have the strength of voice to match her counterpart (Mr. Lake), and likewise Trent Pardy (playing the King of France) is overshadowed by his counterpart (Ms. Hawley). It is true that the other lords and ladies parts are not as challenging, so it is often quite easy to overlook them, but they are performed in such a safe approach that they became regrettably forgettable.

So even though the young company bears the main story, the veterans end up stealing the show with the subplot. As the loquaciously inefficient Don Armado, Peter Donaldson’s entrance is ripped from the book of Brian Bedford, and he continues to generate delighted laughs throughout the play until his sudden, dignified turn at the end. Abetting him in the fun is his co-star from last season, 11-year-old Abigail Winter-Culliford. Moving from southern accent to Shakespearean speech is a hard task for any actor, but she has obviously worked very hard, and is just as obviously having a great time as the impish and tantrum-throwing Moth. Furthering the mirth is Steven Sutcliffe as a very saucy and dapper Boyet, a barely recognizable Gareth Potter as Nathaniel, John Vickery as the pompous (and in this case, windy) Holofernes, and the inimitable Brian Tree as Costard, who may have written the book on comic timing.

The seasons change in this production (as evidenced by the luxuriant costumes, lighting and music, by Charlotte Dean, Michael J. Whitfield and Stephen Woodjetts, respectively), and as the characters find their labour of love lost in autumn, they look to the following spring to renew their hope of a happy future together. The audience can hope that the more inexperienced actors will soon grow into their parts and steal the limelight back to the main story.

Love’s Labours Lost continues in repertory at the Tom Patterson Theatre until October 4th. For tickets call 519-273-1600.

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