Well blow me down and call me a bard, it’s time for my first Shakespeare review of the season! Well, if you don’t count HIP HIP SHAKESPEARE LIVE MUSIC VIDEOS, and I would not judge you if you did. But this time it’s the right proper Billy Shakes text we’re talking about, and that’s always a good bit of fun. The relentless theatre hoodlums at Sock’n’Buskin were behind this particular classic, the second production in their shortened two-show season. An interesting change of pace after the raucous musical behemoth that was ROCKY HORROR, they opted to settle in to one of the bard’s less performed shows, the romantic c LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST. Other than the slightly weird Kenneth Branagh movie (the one with all the 30’s dance tunes), I’d never seen this show done. It was, I have to admit, about time.
Set in the kingdom of Navarre, its ruler Ferdinand (Luke Bradley) has decided that he and his three best pals should swear off women and fun for three whole years to devote themselves to study. A crazy plan, obviously, but Longaville and Dumaine (James Hargrove and Peter Knowton) quickly swear their oaths. Ladies man Berowne (Will Lafrance) is less enthusiastic, reminding the King that a Princess (Reena Belford) and her gentlewomen Rosaline, Maria and Katherine (Alison Almeida, Caitlin Borthwick and Jennifer Hurd) are on their way for a diplomatic visit. Undaunted, Ferdinand insists the ladies bunk in the woods rather than be allowed to enter his castle…except that, in telling them this, the lads all immediately fall head over heels for the gals, and we’ve got ourselves a rom-com!
And what would a comedy be without some wacky ancillary characters, messing up the works? Well, this shows got’em in spades: dimwitted Costard (Kevin Nimmock) has been caught making time with popular local wench Jaquenetta (Julia Allen), which has aroused the ire of flamboyant Spaniard Don Armado (Johnathan Vien), who fancies a little wenching of his own. He’s aided, and subtly insulted, by his attendant Moth (Lauren Walker) and the aptly named Dull (Sophie Crump), and trades occasional repartee with upitty duo Holofernes and Nathaniel (Euan Wheaton and Michael Anderson). The King and his boys, meanwhile, are trying every trick they can think of (short of being sincere, naturally) to woo their ladies…it doesn’t help their case that smooth-talking Boyet (Ian Gillies) is running interference on the ladies’ behalf.
Much silliness ensues until the surprisingly earnest sneak ending, and with the help of director Dave Dawson, the S’n’B production entertains throughout. Although the set is a little threadbare, perhaps betraying a few of the companies recent cashflow woes (although I’m sure Awesome Jeff did his best, and the climbable tree centerpiece IS a beauty), there are more than enough fun and solid performances in the show to make it a helluva good time. Right off, I was well and truly impressed with Will LaFrance as Berowne, who makes an amiable rogue indeed and tackles several hefty Shakespearean monologues with spectacular results, and a sly grin to boot. His lady of choice, Rosaline, gives as good as she gets thanks to the mighty charm of Alison Almeida…although it’s princess Reena Belford who gets the lion’s share of the dialogue on the ladies side, and she nails it in a classy performance. Luke Bradley, meanwhile, has an understated but very funny turn as Ferdinand, often making you laugh before you even realize what’s just happened. John ‘Bubba’ Vien makes a great comic turn as the loopy Don Armado (even if we did miss a golden opportunity for a wacky racist accent..!), and Lauren Walker as ever-attendant Moth also acquitted herself well. Following his great turn in ROCKY HORROR, I’m finding that Euan Wheaton may be one to watch out for, awfully damn funny as the uptight Holofernes. And Ian Gillies, the man whose voice could melt butter from 1000 yards, was spot-on as the scene-stealing Boyet.
Special shoutout to the costume kids Jasmine Murray-Bergquist and Sarah Zaidi for some excellent and regal duds, especially Luke’s killer red top and Reena’s lovely dress. They did great work, especially on what I expect was a tight budget…and I hope Ottawa will do their part to help’em out by trucking themselves over to Carleton Uni’s Kailash Mital Theatre and catching this dandy ensemble do their stuff before it’s all over on the 16th. Keep these kids in Socks and Buskins, everyone, and enjoy some heartfelt Shakespeare while you’re at it. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)