"From women's eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain and nourish all the world."
So says Berowne, one of the four men who, at the start of Love's Labour's Lost, have vowed to abstain from all forms of pleasure, in order to study and write; but as these lines demonstrate, the arrival of four effervescent young ladies changes all that!
For our production, director Tom Littler and designer Neil Irish, have taken inspiration from the bohemian world of the Bloomsbury Group of writers and artists: characters such as Virginia Woolf, Duncan Grant and Lytton Strachey, who would make long sojourns to the peace and quite of the Sussex countryside cottage of Charleston, owned by Vanessa and Duncan Bell.
The four couples that make up the main romantic-comedy story of Love's Labour's Lost are highly intelligent and literate - but what they atrocious at is being able to articulate their true emotions.
"I needed a group of intellectuals who would struggle to express themselves," explains Tom in the show's programme notes, with regards to the choice of Bloomsbury, "...a sophisticated and incestuous group of writers and artists."
In the play, Ferdinand (the King), has come up with the bright idea to establish a "little academe, still and contemplative in living art", and made his friends Berowne, Dumain and Longeville, all swear an oath for 3 years. The decree states:
- once a week to eat no food
- to sleep only three hours
- no women to come within 3 miles of the house (on pain of losing her tongue)
- no man may talk with a woman (resulting in public shame if he does)
Which of course they all know is preposterous, especially, as Berowne points out, the Princess of France is due to visit on state matters. As audience members, we revel in the absurdity of the oath because we know without fail it will be broken instantly!
Once the ladies arrive and discover they are to be lodged in the field, it becomes very clear that they are going to run the gentlemen a merry dance, as their suitors do their utmost to secretly woo them.
What ensues is a scintillating chain of events where the men continually humiliate themselves at the expense of the ladies; whether it is through the misplacement of love notes, refusing the temptation of cream horns, Russian kalinka dancing or an impromptu pageant from the local villagers, the ladies are always one step ahead of the men.
Taking our inspiration from Bloomsbury and their Sussex bolt-hole of Charleston, we've re-located Shakespeare's Spanish setting of Navarre to a bend on an English river, where two cottages have been rented by the sanctuary-seeking groups. It also enables us to introduce a location for the local villagers who make up the rest of the cast. The bend on the river is home to an alfresco tea-shop run by Costard and her waitress Jaquenetta. Frequent visitors are Holofernes (the Latin school teacher), Sir Nathaniel (the vicar), Constable Dull (the local bobby) and Miss Moth, an young student on her summer holidays.
...and it is in the tea-shop's neutral ground that the lovers can freely meet and flirt.
As with every show we do, the rehearsal room walls are always full of images to give the company inspiration and reference points. Here's a selection of items from the wall, along with handful of Neil Irish's designs.
You can read more about the play, Tom's ideas, and see further designs by Neil in the programme available at the performance.