• Storytelling
  • By Forced Entertainment
  • Performed by Robin Arthur
  • Barbican Centre, London
  • Until 6 March 2016
  • Review by Oscar Balfour
  • 6 March 2016
Table Top Shakespeare: Loves Labours Lost
4.0Reviewer's Rating

The objects signifying the characters of Loves Labours Lost are taken off the full shelves framing the stage, and arranged on boxes behind the central table. They will be placed on the table when their character enters, and taken off when they leave. There will be none of Shakespeare’s script and a lot of the secondary characters are cut too, in a tale of commitment and honesty told in a pleasingly quiet manner. Forced Entertainment apply their characteristic thoughtfulness and trust in the audience to this early Shakespearean romance (along with the rest of the canon) and make it seem effortless.

With the original prose removed, the plot is revealed as quite formulaic and daft, despite the unconventional ending. But the joy of the performance is still in the telling, as the language is fitting in its simplicity and succinctness. Robin Arthur is a very confident storyteller, and he spins this world out for us with charm and an easy attitude. He keeps what is quite a simplistic tale conversational and entertaining, and happily sums large parts of what is essentially the same kind of wooing for the four couples up in a few lines, because the narrative is now more important than the verse. It keeps the play snappy, more like an Aesop’s Fable than a drawn out comedy of errors. The household object characters also keep this show in the realms of the faintly silly, and work very well as characters to follow. I’m not sure how well this would work with the denser tragedies, but it added another layer of playful entertainment here.

Rather than ascribe any great symbolic meaning to the signifying objects (e.g. a spoon is a servant, a ruler is a prince) the objects chosen easily delineate the characters. The King and his men are all glass condiment bottles, the King of Navarre being the tallest while his friends steadily decrease in size. The Princess of France’s court is plastic bottles of oil and lotion, the Princess tallest of course, while Rosaline is a curvy bottle of chocolate sauce. It’s a fun illustration of their character, and the material divide really helps define who’s who in what could quite easily become a confusing matchmaking scenario.

Resisting the urge to do a lot of clever things with the objects and just telling the story is incredibly brave, and is justified by the quality of the storytelling. When the ladies put on masks their bottles are simply turned around. The King and his men are pushed to the corners of the table to signify their hiding in bushes. There is no more done than is necessary, and the show is all the more engaging for it.

It is a shame to lose Shakespeare’s wonderful language, but the honest, simple performance is engaging and delightful. This show makes a wonderful resource for a student, but it’s also good quality storytelling, and that is always worth seeing.

About The Author

Profile photo of Oscar Balfour

Oscar has a love of new theatre, written or otherwise. He's a designer for Crooked Tree Theatre Company (Purveyors of Poor Taste), who performed recently at The Hen and Chickens. Oscar's work has shown at the Old Red Lion and Camden People's Theatre. He's also a traditional illustrator, mask-maker, and an English/Drama graduate of Royal Holloway, University of London.


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