Reactions to the Globe to Globe project (37 plays in 37 different languages) have mostly been along the lines of: but, Shakespeare’s all about the language! How will it be if you can’t understand any of it? Well, having seen a dozen now, I can say that it’s rather like opera. Opera-lovers wouldn’t think twice about going to see a show in Italian or French; it makes it easier in some ways to concentrate on the music. So with Shakespeare (which, let’s face it, often has rather silly plots), a similar approach is necessary: your brain latches onto bits and pieces of text, sure, but is mostly watching the visual and the spectacle. It makes you focus on costume, set, gesture and nuance in a way that is very easy to overlook if you’re concentrating on the language.
The same was true of Deafinitely Theatre’s Love’s Labour’s Lost: I don’t understand British Sign Language, but there are some signs – and gestures – that are universal. The sign for “sexy lady” for example, is pretty much as you’d imagine, as is “I don’t want to have sex with you, push off”. In a rather odd play which centres around a battle of the sexes (four men, four women, who all conveniently fall in love in neat pairs), I’m sure there were acres of nuance that I lost. However, in this sprightly and highly amusing version, there was enough less-subtle-stuff for those of us ignorant of BSL to get the gist, helped by synopses of each scene. It’s a very silly play with an even sillier ending, but this version – in the sudden sunshine – felt like a big party.
There was a real sense of community at the Globe. Everyone was talking and signing and laughing and hugging; there was a feeling that people were re-connecting, catching up and making new acquaintances. Applause/appreciation in BSL is shown by holding arms up, palms flat, and shaking the hands. There was something oddly moving abut seeing the whole audience waving – much more so than during a curtain call characterised by polite clapping.
There was a lot to like about this production, not least the atmosphere that Deafinitely Theatre created at The Globe. Director Paula Garfield had worked hard – and successfully – to bring out the comedic aspects, which stopped the audience getting too bogged down by the rather ramshackle plot. Judicious cuts helped, too. Nadia Nadarajah was an impish and imperious Princess of France, quick to enjoy games at the expense of the men courting her and her ladies. The sparring between Matthew Gurney’s Berowne and Charly Arrowsmith’s Rosaline was fantastic to watch; Arrowsmith’s mocking signing become more and more languid as she wound Gurney up – you got the impression she could hardly be bothered to move her hands to insult him. He – in a rather natty pair of orange trousers – considers himself quite the intellectual, and their consequent bickering was handled with great dexterity.
What made this production work, for me, was the music. Perfectly judged, witty and expertly played, the music was performed to match up to the signs, to emphasise or illuminate – it made the jokes funnier and the pathos more dramatic. Played by Jon Whitton and Flora Curzon, and designed by Phillippa Herrick, the music really brought the threads of the production together for me. A lively and engaging production of one of Shakespeare’s odder plays.
Love Labour’s Lost was part of the Globe to Globe Festival. For more information on the rest of the Globe to Globe festival, see the website here.