Globe to Globe: Love’s Labours Lost in British Sign Language (UK)

When I heard Deafinitely would be doing Shakespeare’s most language-focused play, I was intrigued. Love’s Labours Lost has long been a favourite comedy of mine – Rosaline and Berowne are a dry run for Beatrice and Benedick who nonetheless are slightly more grown-up than the more famous pair, and there are more than enough classical allusions and Latin jokes to keep a smug 17-year-old enrolled at a liberal arts college happy, as I was when I first encountered the play. Parts of it are very boring, and a lot of it doesn’t make sense, but Berowne is probably my favourite speaker in all Shakespeare and the ending is brilliant.

All photos (c) Simon Annand

I understand the process Deafinitely went through to translate the play involved first rephrasing it into contemporary English (which must have been difficult – the verse is incredibly dense) and then handing it to the actors to create their own signing.

Photo (c) Simon Annand

Music underscored the whole play, so the effect for hearing audience members was like a silent film. Each group of characters had their own theme, and I was extremely pleased (oh no, here comes the smug 17-year-old again) to hear Handel’s theme from “Judas Maccabeus” played during the pageant of the Nine Worthies, although the “character” of Judah Maccabee as played by Holofernes was cut.

Don Armado  (Adam Basset) was outstanding. A comic riff on flamenco music underscored his scenes, but he was much more straightforwardly sympathetic, and less an object of fun, than the character usually is. His performance of Spring and Winter at the end was my favourite scene – a masterpiece that showed off the resonance and beauty of signed poetry.

For the same reasons, Berowne (Matthew Gurney)’s longer speeches shone, as signing things like “Light seeking light doth light of light beguile” was much clearer and more evocative (and, it must be said, funnier) than speaking it.

Boyet (Brian Duffy) and the Princess (Nadia Nadarajah) had strong chemistry; Boyet had the best costume onstage, a 1930s pinstripe suit and trilby hat with a massive 17th-century plume attached, and the Princess was self-assured and had gravitas even in the lighter scenes, which is often missing in productions. Ferdinand (Stephen Collins) was like a less obnoxious version of James Corden (that’s a good thing, for the record). Unfortunately Rosaline (Charly Arrowsmith) didn’t work for me; she was a bit too overtly argumentative, too Kate-from-Taming-of-the-Shrew, and didn’t create any sense of emotional connection with Berowne. It’s true that Berowne does all the heavy lifting in that relationship, but there should be a sense that she finds him interesting, at least, or has any feelings towards him other than exaggerated, playground putdowns.

Photo (c) Simon Annand

After the >2hr Lear and Romeo and Juliet, Love’s Labour’s 2hr45min running time was a change (not entirely a welcome one as I was standing in the yard). As I said, it’s one of my favourite comedies so I was happy to spend more time with it, but I did think several scenes dragged a bit, and there was a lot of room to tighten up scenes and shave 20min or so off the production. The character of Nathan and consequently all the tedious Cambridge don Latin jokes were cut, but they included several speeches and scenes that are usually trimmed down or cut even in spoken English productions, and which I didn’t think were so important or funny they needed to be kept in.

The most impressive accomplishment of Deafinitely’s production for me was the actor-devised translation: it kept a surprising amount of detail from the text, and it occasionally veered into brilliance, illuminating ideas even more clearly and beautifully than Shakespeare’s words do.

I saw Globe to Globe’ Love’s Labours Lost at Shakespeare’s Globe on May 24, 2012.

2 thoughts on “Globe to Globe: Love’s Labours Lost in British Sign Language (UK)

  1. Absolutely agree with you on this. You forgot to mention how amazing the atmosphere was too. On Wednesday there was roaring appreciation all over – very special.

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