One of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, Love’s Labour’s Lost precedes the hilarity of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing, but there are foreshadowings of the sparring lovers, mistaken identities and witty women that feature in both subsequent plays. Northern Broadsides’ fun and colourful new production embraces the individuality of the text

Love’s Labour’s Lost marks the company’s twentieth anniversary production. With a two-decade heritage showcasing regional talent and developing a unique ‘Northern’ voice, this production is no exception. The versatile company use their natural Northern accents throughout (excepting Andrew Vincent, who performs a hilarious turn as the vivacious Spanish Armardo) and utilise their talents to provide an atmospheric soundtrack to the performance that effectively evokes the 1930s setting of the production and the tongue-in-cheek tone of the performance.

As the play opens, we meet the King of Navarre and his companions as they agree on a vow of celibacy, fasting and study. Matt Connor as the quick-witted Berowne is immediately striking and captures a delicate balance of cockiness and likability that is mirrored in his romantic counterpart, Catherine Kinsella’s equally affable and intelligent Rosaline. As soon as the Princess of France arrives with her ladies in waiting, we are in the familiar territory of temptation, teasing and cross-purposes. There are strong performances from all four sets of lovers, but Hester Arden and Jos Vantyler as Maria and Longeville sizzle with a particularly believable romantic longing and unbridled passion.

Director (and Founder of the company) Barrie Rutter embues this story of eight ill-fated lovers with all the necessary humour. There is a real freshness to his approach, with anecdotal set pieces of side-splitting humour such as the appearance of the king and his attendants in bizarre steampunk-inspired Russian outfits for the play’s Muscovite Masque. All the musical interludes used throughout are strong, both establishing atmosphere and punctuating the comic effect of countless scenes. Even the mummers’ play at the end of this two-and-a-half hour epic manages to entertain, as the rustic country yokel characters perform their version of the ‘Nine Worthies’. Foreshadowing the play-within-a-play of A Midsummer Night’s Drea,, Rutter brings out the physical comedy here, with Dean Whatton giving a hilarious turn as the snake-strangling Hercules and Emily Aston presiding over proceedings with a humourously snobbish air as the beleagured Jacquenetta.

A vast cast of 17 populate the stage with vivacity and endless enthusiasm, and not a moment of this production feels dull or tired despite the inherent tribulations of touring, with the company already half way through a four-month schedule. If this production, the culmination of 20 years of touring, is anything to go by, the next 20 years are looking very bright indeed for Northern Broadsides. If you’re anywhere north of Peterborough, this is not to be missed.

Love’s Labour’s Lost was at the Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough, and continues its tour of the UK until 5th May, next stopping at Buxton Opera House from 29 to 31 March. For more information on all tour dates and to buy tickets, visit Northern Broadsides’ website.

Image credit: Northern Broadsides