Balancing warmth, wit, and a large dose of the ridiculous, Guildford Shakespeare Company’s Love’s Labour’s Lost manages to be both moving and amusing, thanks largely to a committed cast who throw themselves energetically into multiple roles and ludicrous comic set pieces.
Matt Pinches stays just on the right side of caricature with his portrayal of amorous Don Adriano, strutting about the space like a rooster, belting out his lines in an outrageously exaggerated accent. Sally Cheng excels in a small role as pin-sharp servant Moth, landing every flippant witticism with perfect clarity and great timing. Chris Porter makes an amiably baffled Ferdinand, well matched by Sarah Gobran’s frosty French Princess, whose sardonic coolness drops away in the closing scenes to heartrending effect.
While the set, from Neil Irish, may be less ambitious than in previous productions, it is nonetheless effective, featuring a sturdy jetty complete with moored rowboat, and strings of paper lanterns hung between the trees, glowing pleasantly as twilight sets in. The costumes meanwhile conjure a period of interwar nostalgia, all blazers and boater hats, with each prospective couple garbed in colour-matched outfits.
Director Tom Littler makes confident use of the open-air performance space, his cast roaming the grounds between scenes, enriching Shakespeare’s deliciously dense wordplay with a multitude of sight gags and nonverbal interactions. An infectious sense of escalating absurdity infuses the whole production, eventually breaking with enough force to ensure that the play’s final twist feels every bit as wrenching as it should.