When one attends a play at the Stratford Festival, they expect to become captivated by the incredible performances and be in awe of the beautiful sets and costumes. Stratford Festival’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare at the Festival Theatre surpassed both expectations.
The play opens with the sound of birds chirping and bright lighting accenting the stained glass windows on either side of the magnificent set on an intricate marble terrace. Throughout the play, the lighting is artfully used to depict the different times of day with soft pink, green, or blue backlighting that also works to evoke the characters’ feelings of newfound love. During the final act of the play, the lighting casts a soft dusk over the stage to create a picturesque night with stars dotting the backdrop behind the terrace and both sides of the theatre. The addition of the stars made the lovers’ final scenes together all the more moving.
I was duly impressed with captivating performances by everyone that crossed the stage. The most notable were Berowne (Mike Shara) and Don Adriano de Armado (Juan Chioran). Berowne was the most lovable lord attending to King Ferdinand of Navarre (Sanjay Talwar) because he used his wit to find loopholes in their oath to swear off all ladies for three years, and behind his sarcastic and comical exterior lay the heart of a loving poet and devoted man. This is my second time seeing Shara as one of Shakespeare’s leading men, the first being Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night (2011), and I have to say that he is one of the most charming men to watch perform.
Armado was quite possibly the most ridiculous Shakespeare character I have ever seen cross the Festival stage, and I could not have been more enthralled by his performance. He was like a caricature of an old Spanish lover with the heavy accent, twirled up mustache, giant grey hair, and puffy costume. Think Captain Hook meets Zorro and you have this hilariously endearing character. Not one to travel alone, Armado was joined by his pint-sized page Moth (Gabriel Long), who owned the stage with his quick wit and lively actions.
One of the most creative choices that director John Caird made was to have the schoolmaster Holofernes, played by the wonderful Tom Rooney, introduce intermission by blatantly telling the audience to leave the theatre. This comical interaction with the audience only made us more interested to return and see what else the play had in store. Having seen Tom Rooney as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2009), I was all too happy to recognize his distinctive booming voice though slightly disappointed that he didn’t have a more vital role in the play because he is thoroughly enjoyable to watch.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is not one of Shakespeare’s better comedies, but this incredibly talented cast and crew put on a visually enchanting and delightfully entertaining performance.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is running at the Stratford Festival Theatre until Oct. 9. Tickets can be purchased online at strafordfestival.ca.
photo credit: David Hou