Truth be told, the King of Navarre is a bit of a prude. While his Lords frolic frivolously all over the Globe’s stage with masked temptresses and buxom bawds, regal Stephen Collins glances down from the balcony disapprovingly, while we in the audience barely know where to look! Thus the tongue-in-cheek tone of Deafinitely Theatre’s contribution in British Sign Language to the Globe to Globe Festival is set.
The play opens with so much kissing and groping, teasing and tickling, that it comes as no surprise when the King demands a vow of abstinence from his court. Despite Berowne’s eloquent protestations, and Dumaine and Longaville flirting with anything that moves, the Lords ultimately begrudgingly obey. That is, until the Princess of France and her ladies flit in with their shapely figures and playful ways, and the four couples fall hopelessly, and absurdly, in love. Matthew Gurney cuts a suitably dashing figure as Berowne, with Charly Arrowsmith a feisty and sarcastic Rosaline. As the Princess, Nadia Nadarajah proves the perfect little minx to get Stephen Collins’ pulse racing, while Vitalis Katakinas and David Sands skilfully execute the men’s farcical eavesdropping on each other’s private lust.
As the audience blush at the bad behaviour, or swoon at the sight of a suggestive wink, it is all too easy to forget that for some this performance is in a foreign language. It helps of course that BSL is deliciously expressive, and Paula Garfield’s production exploits the visual richness of the form to ensure a remarkably accessible performance. How joyous it is to find yourself laughing at jokes – not simply along with jokes – without knowing a word of the language.
The cast embody Shakespeare’s text in a way most actors can only dream of, bringing character and dialogue to life through their gestures and expressions so successfully that we do not once want for words. The unique surround of the Globe’s galleries presents a challenge to any actor, but perhaps none more so than those whose vocabulary is inherently visual. Of the 37 companies to have graced this stage during the festival, Deafinitely Theatre arguably have the hardest job of playing to the whole house, and at times it feels that perhaps the stage choreography doesn’t quite succeed in reaching out to audience members sat towards the rear of the stage. Yet the rest of the Globe’s tests were passed with aplomb – the groundlings co-opted and flirted with outrageously, and musicians Jon Whitton and Flora Curzon tuning out overflying aircraft with their skilled playing of Sound Designer Phillipa Herrick’s jolly motifs.
The ending of the play, where a year of separation looms like an impossible gulf for the fledgling lovers, risks feeling as though our Bard forgot he was writing a comedy. While this production feels the sudden absence of pace and laughs, in their place emerges Don Armado’s beautifully signed song of ‘Spring and Winter’, which bring a stillness and poignancy to the closing scene. With the rest of the cast echoing his movements, somehow Adam Bassett succeeds in capturing the pastoral poetry of the language entirely though his body. The ensemble signing around him is utterly mesmerising and ensures that, like the truest of Shakespearean comedies, this Love’s Labour’s Lost ends with a dance and sends you out with a smile.