Directed by Damien Ryan
Sport for Jove
Presented in conjunction with Sydney Hills Shakespeare in the Park alongside Shakespearealism
Bella Vista Park Farm, Corner of Northwest Boulevard and Elizabeth Macarthur Drive, Bella Vista
Season: 11 - 30 December (Bella Vista) 9 – 24 January (Leura)
Love is a strange thing, seemingly bound up in notions of uncovering truth, longing, and often seems to engender gender as a key issue. Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works thanks to a theatrical disinclination to stage the show, due to its complex language. However, director Damien Ryan’s love for the comedy thrusts it onto the outdoor stage, in the Sydney Hills Shakespeare in the Park, preceded by the short Sport for Jove show Shakespearealism. Presented in its original Elizabethan context, the performers indulge in a delicious range of sonnets, poetry and prose and deliver effervescent comedic work throughout.
We are met with a tale of a King and his lords, who vow to remove themselves from female company, rather engaging in fasting and little sleep in order to dedicate themselves to their study. This lofty vow proves to be unrealistic as the audience beholds innumerable romantic pursuits and humorous cross-exchanges, entangling the men in their own folly and allowing the women to instil an honest temperament in their suitors. We perpetually see women through the male gaze, and yet these women prevail, disembarking from the idealised and objectified romantic path marked out by their male counterparts. We see a story of power. And as serious as this may be, and sound, Ryan’s production manages to rouse gleeful laughter in the audience. It is a comedy, after all.
It is hard to beat the atmosphere of outdoor theatre, an element which Sport for Jove capitalises beautifully upon annually at this festival. The show is staged within a fixed stand in Bella Vista Park Farm, and yet amalgamated into an Elizabethan realm through Anna Gardiner and Damien Ryan’s set co-design. Touches of both the natural world in which the audience resides, and the Elizabethan reality of the play, are incorporated through the use of lush flora and period pieces to ground the story in its original setting. Shafts in the set backdrop make use of the natural shifting light, complementing Sian James Holland’s lighting design. Melanie Liertz has crafted exquisite costuming true to the era – a formidable feat, especially on an independent theatre budget. Liertz’s design most richly contributes to the regal status of the Princess and her maids, heightening their dizzying beauty and stature.
Ryan has tweaked the text in parts to pack a firmer punch with a contemporary audience, removing some of the less intelligible sections of language whilst inserting amusing references to our modern situation. Be this through political gibes, or the reworking of the character Anthony Dull, played by Scott Sheridan, an anachronistic modern-day park ranger integrated into the Elizabethan proceedings. This insertion allowed for an abundance of laughs at the inordinately out-of-place nature of the role, displaying the creativity of Ryan’s directorial vision. The show was not short on comedy, continuing to bring sheer delight to the audience through the featuring of the fantastical Spaniard, Armado, played by Berynn Schwerdt, and his page played by Aaron Tsindos. Through quite a long play, the audience was persistently drawn into the action, with actors directly engaging with audience members, displaying an off-the-cuff comedic flair.
Whilst amply gratifying the audience’s thirst for great entertainment, this production duly responds to the deeper issues underlying the text’s amusing veneer. A power play of gender roles is ubiquitous in the storyline, and yet there is hope in the way the story defies norms as it progresses. Radiant strength emanates from the princess, played by Emily Eskell, and is assuredly fortified by her ladies, performed by Sabryna Te’o, Madeleine Jones and Lara Schwerdt. Each woman brings satisfying richness and depth to her role, supported by Ryan’s direction. Significantly, Gabrielle Scawthorn plays a woman disguised as a man to learn the ways of male freedom. This is a bold adaptation of the originally male character, Longaville, and serves to raise pertinent questions of same-sex marriage, as love of a likeness is embodied in her, and paralleled against the other heterosexual romances. Scawthorn performs with grace, as she tragically exemplifies the same deep desire in her romantic pursuit as her male companions.
Love’s Labour’s Lost provides sensational entertainment and cracking comedy without skimping on relevant issues worthy of reflection. With resounding concerns about the perception of gender and same-sex relationships in our society, the climate can become a little overwhelming without a healthy dose of humour to lighten the blow. Sport for Jove is bold in giving weighty social issues the consideration they deserve, in amongst a dashing flair for comedy. And all this, under the stars. What a treat!