We went to Summer Shakespeare to see Love’s Labour’s Lost which seems to be one of Shakespeare’s least known and least popular plays. In fact it seems to have been a play performed for select, elite audiences with a script that delighted in witty references to things long since forgotten, and quick fire pedantry. In short, it ain’t that great 400 years later.
To prepare for the play Cathy and I tried to watch a BBC version, but part way through Cathy went and cleaned the shower and I fell asleep. Eleanor was sitting with us at the time and said: “this is boring, they’re just saying the same words in different orders really fast”. Which was 100% accurate. Later I tried to read the play but ended up snoozing. My overwhelming feeling when watching or reading this play was “who gives a f&ck?”. The fact that this play is performed at all now is proof of the power of the name Shakespeare. He is, of course, a talent of mind-boggling proportions, one of the few people who deserve the title “genius”, but that doesn’t mean that everything he did was genius. Love’s Labour’s Lost would be a case in point.
Strangely, it reminded me of teaching about Caitlyn Jenner at school on Friday. While we were exploring the issues of identity and media around her gender change I couldn’t help but think: “this woman is a tool”. Not because she transitioned, but because she just comes across as a vain, utterly self-absorbed person. You see, you don’t have to join the love-in for Caitlyn just because of her difficult journey, you can dislike her because of her other qualities. And so you can dislike a Shakespeare play. It’s ok. Sometimes, maybe, what was produced wasn’t vintage, or hasn’t aged well at all.
Which means that Summer Shakespeare was up against it before they even began rehearsing, and they didn’t really do anything to circumvent the play’s failings or update its references. They reversed all the gender roles which is about as hackneyed as it gets in a performance of a Shakespeare play, and in this case it signified nothing: the girls were played by boys and boys by girls and it had no charge, or point in it at all except seeing dudes in dresses is funny.
But the main problem was that you couldn’t hear anything they were effing saying because they not only performed it kind of in the round so half the time they were facing away from you, but they were predominantly young female actors in the open on a windy Wellington night and the trees and the cicadas were louder than them. High speed Shakespearean repartee is hard going at the best of times but when you can only hear every second word it quickly becomes meaningless. In fact, it reminded me of watching Vietnamese water puppet opera in Hanoi which rates as one of the most incomprehensible things I have ever seen (but was more enjoyable that Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Dell).
To compensate for not being able to project the actors shouted. Shouting witty dialogue doesn’t generally work. It also makes all the characters sound the same because they are all shouting. I went to the toilet for awhile to kill some time and got a text from a friend:
So, long story but up in Auckland at the Pride Parade… True Bliss just went past and they were amazing! Only four of the five though.
I’m at Summer Shakespeare and it’s effing shit. And cold. And they’re all cross-dressed so I’m kind of at a pride thing too but you win because I’d rather be there.
I trudged back to my seat reluctantly and discovered they were breaking for an intermission. Bloody ace! Cathy and I looked at each other, nodded, grabbed our shit and scarpered.