Meet some of the creatives behind Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Press and PR Officer Phoebe Coleman spoke to director Nick Bagnall and co-composers Laura Moody and James Fortune about how they have created the aesthetic and mood of Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Phoebe Coleman: Love’s Labour’s Lost is a rarely performed play. What’s the appeal in staging it this season?
Nick Bagnall: I’m drawn to difficult plays because they’re not done so much. You can have a fresh eye on them. I’ve also always wanted to do something bespoke for a theatre because everything else I’ve done has been brought in from other spaces so I was really excited to make something specifically for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
PC: So why is this play such a good fit for the Playhouse?
Laura Moody: We use quite different musical voices to the ones used in the Globe Theatre, because the Playhouse is so intimate. The acoustic is crystal clear, and you can hear every tiny detail, so you have to approach sound in a very different way. That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to the Playhouse: you have such control over sound in there. Of course, the space also gives you so much atmosphere to play with.
James Fortune: It’s unique like that. You could play in a studio theatre pretty much anywhere else and you’ve got to create the magic, but in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse it’s right there – you have to complement it rather than fight against it.
NB: I was drawn to the indoor space because it lends so much of its magic to productions, and that’s important for this play. The space is a kind of treasure trove – a little music box. I think I would have found it hard to do this play in the Globe! If we did it outdoors in the middle of summer I’m sure it would be a lot funnier, but the play has a strange sense of melancholy that sits really well in the Playhouse.
PC: Some people think this play has a ‘problem’ ending. How are you approaching its dark conclusion?
NB: There’s a looming shadow of death hanging over this whole play and it is right there at the beginning. We start with a king on his deathbed, and a princess running away from the death of her father, in Act I. My plan is to point to this shadow throughout the play so that it doesn’t feel crow-barred in at the end. There’s some pretty frivolous pretence going on and I want a dark shadow to creep over the characters and what they’re indulging in.
I’m also dealing with the whole play like it’s a fairy tale – and a fairy tale only exists with death and truth. There are so many fantastical elements to this play. Shakespeare has written a set of characters who want to be living art. But that’s impossible, so you need this shadow of death to be a reminder of reality. You need light and shadows for a fairy tale. It’s funny though, I haven’t gotten rid of the gags!
LM: The feeling of shadows extends to the music too. One of the very first pieces of music we wrote was the final song, so the ending of the play has really been the starting point for all of us. A lot of the music is a transformation of that song and, throughout, the music relates to where we will end up.
PC: What influences did you draw on when composing this fairy tale atmosphere?
LM: We thought of the Playhouse as a musical box and that’s inspired a lot of the language we’re working with. There is a strong Eastern European influence, and lots of folk music.
JF: It’s important to say here: this is why we asked Laura Moody to be involved. She writes very soulful, very atmospheric, very beautiful music and sings with it. It’s totally distinctive and not like anything else I’ve heard. Her aesthetic is a starting point that we’re spreading out to the rest of the company.
PC: Love’s Labour’s Lost was written around the same time as many of Shakespeare’s sonnets and this comes through in the play’s linguistic style. How are you responding to lyricism of the text?
JF: Shakespeare doesn’t help us much because there are not lots of songs in the play and, curiously, there are only one or two occasions where you look at the beautiful verse and think, ‘that could be a song!’ So there’s lyricism yes, but it doesn’t all lend itself to song as such.
LM: We’re looking at other ways to marry that lyricism with music. For example, we’re thinking of music as being representative of love and sentiment in the play, so explosions of love and fantasy will become musical in some way…
NB: And when we talk of love, we really talk of love in the extreme – so we go to the most romantic version of love that you’re ever capable of hearing (and then we smash it apart with dull academia)!
But seriously, there’s rhyme all over this play and that creates a really strong sense of sound and music even before you throw in James and Laura and her team of musicians, Joley Cragg and Louisa Duggan.
I think what Shakespeare is doing, with language and rhyme and all that, is having loads of fun with different styles. He’s finding his feet as a writer and that’s really exciting.
PC: The production only includes three of the four couples from the text. Why is that?
NB: I think Shakespeare made a mistake because all fairy tales work in threes – not fours. He must’ve had a moment of madness. I’m kidding! All joking aside, if we invest in the language of fairy tales then anything is possible. There’s a playfulness that you’re allowed to embrace and that feels limitless. The actors have been cast in one role but they’re doubling up, and tripling up, and might all play the same character at points. I’ve tried to see this story through the eyes of a child and that allows all of us to be slightly more playful. What I wanted was to find a group of eight people who were prepared to have a load of fun with. What we’re doing is joyous, and cheeky, and it needs to be.
PC: How do you put that theory into practice in rehearsals?
LM: We’re working it out on our feet!
NB: We’re all collaborating. Wayne [Parsons, Choreographer] is a really important part of that collaboration. It’s been interesting because he riffs off what I throw at him. We were reading through scenes from Act III, and I said that there might be something in the part we were looking at, and Wayne was ready to do a number around it. We respond to what’s in the room and throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.
We’re working it out with Laura and Jim, with Wayne, with Shakespeare, with me constantly cutting and adding stuff! It’s a really exciting way of working.
Photography by Marc Brenner (rehearsals) and Pete Le May (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)