Humor Magazine

Love's Labour's Lost: Dir. Christopher Luscombe

By Davidduff

And so off we tootled last night to our local cinema complex to a see a 'simulcast' of the current RSC production of Love's Labour's Lost which is running in tandem with 'Love's Labour's Won' (or Much Ado About Nothing as it is more usually known). Within minutes I wanted to vomit!  No, no, not from disgust but from that "green-eyed monster" - jealousy!  The set was magnificent, designed in impeccable detail by Simon Higlett, and no expense had been spared.  Of course, it was my money the RSC spent, well, and yours too unless you're shrewd enough to stick your dosh in a Swiss bank account, but I didn't mind because the end result, with different sets sliding in from the back, from the sides and even up through the stage, was simply theatrical excellence at its very best.  My nausea arose when I looked back on the sets I had to work with which cost about £300 max!

The production was directed by Christopher Luscombe, a new name to me although he has a long and distinguished theatrical record as an actor and director.  He set the play, as others before him have done, in Edwardian England and simply ignored the fact that it is actually set in France!  But Mr. Luscombe is shrewd enough to know that 'our Will' set several of his plays in various parts of Europe but they are always and forever about England or London!  This is an early Shakespeare and frankly it is a conceit!  'Our Will' had arrived in London as a 'wannabe' playwright and found almost instant success.  He was the 'new kid on the block' having written some popular successes featuring blood and guts, or blood and patriotism, to keep the groundlings happy.  But this play was aimed at the young bucks in his audience.  The type of well-educated young gentlemen who, for example, hung around with the equally young Earl of Southampton who was to be such a help to 'our Will' when times were hard.  In an age without any mass media of any type, these wags and wits loved word-play particularly when it was constrained by the iambic pentameter form. 

This play, featuring four young men of noble birth making total asses of themselves as they attempt to woo four ladies who instantly see through all their nonsense, is jam-packed full of wit and puns but if the slightly archaic language passes over your 21st century head then Mr. Luscombe's production points up the meanings and adds to the hilarity with some terrific comedy business.  He really is a very, very good director and he is blessed on this occasion with an equally excellent cast.  Well, if you missed it in your local cinema last night - tough!  However, you can see it's 'sister' play, Love's Labour's Won (Much Ado About Nothing) in cinemas - around the world! - on the 4th of March - book now!

Only one thing jarred slightly last night.  In the play, three of the four ladies are the Elizabethan ideals of beauty being of fair complexion - like the real, red-headed Queen, herself.  But one of them, Rosaline, is dark and she is the one fancied by our 'hero', Berowne, a very witty, handsome, young man with great skill in word-play - I wonder who Shakespeare had in mind when he invented that character?!  Anyway, he instantly falls for the dark Rosaline and it's worth noting that when this play was written 'our Will' was being "a very naughty boy" with Emilia Lanier (née Bassano), a lady of Italian and possibly Jewish descent who was to become the "dark lady of the sonnets".  Anyway, Berowne's three pals tease him like mad for fancying this dark complexioned lady - not Negroid, mind, just dark - but he defends his choice with passion.  Now, for some reason the actress playing Rosaline was not dark and the entire passage concerning her looks was cut.  I do hope it wasn't political correctness that made Mr. Luscombe lose his nerve!  Here is the text, I leave you to judge whether it is acceptable in this, er, 'delicate' age we live in! 


By heaven, thy love is black as ebony.


Is ebony like her? O wood divine!
A wife of such wood were felicity.
O, who can give an oath? where is a book?
That I may swear beauty doth beauty lack,
If that she learn not of her eye to look:
No face is fair that is not full so black.


O paradox! Black is the badge of hell,
The hue of dungeons and the suit of night;
And beauty's crest becomes the heavens well.


Devils soonest tempt, resembling spirits of light.
O, if in black my lady's brows be deck'd,
It mourns that painting and usurping hair
Should ravish doters with a false aspect;
And therefore is she born to make black fair.
Her favour turns the fashion of the days,
For native blood is counted painting now;
And therefore red, that would avoid dispraise,
Paints itself black, to imitate her brow.


To look like her are chimney-sweepers black.


And since her time are colliers counted bright.


And Ethiopes of their sweet complexion crack.


Dark needs no candles now, for dark is light.


Your mistresses dare never come in rain,
For fear their colours should be wash'd away.


'Twere good, yours did; for, sir, to tell you plain,
I'll find a fairer face not wash'd to-day.


I'll prove her fair, or talk till doomsday here.


No devil will fright thee then so much as she.


I never knew man hold vile stuff so dear.


Look, here's thy love: my foot and her face see.


O, if the streets were paved with thine eyes,
Her feet were much too dainty for such tread!


O, vile! then, as she goes, what upward lies
The street should see as she walk'd overhead.

And yes, apropos those last two lines, a bit of filth always had both groundlings and toffs rolling in the aisles.  He knew his audience, did 'our Will'!

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