Charlie Swinbourne reviews this BSL performance, part of The Globe Theatre's Globe to Globe season.
'37 Plays. 37 Languages.' This is the tag line for the Globe Theatre's Globe to Globe season, hosting theatre companies from every corner of the world. The season may be international in outlook, yet the language used to perform this version of Love's Labour's Lost is at once home-grown, yet very different from the language of Shakespeare.
His comedy is performed here in sign language with no spoken words at all, just musical backing from a live band on stage. The genius of Deafinitely Theatre's interpretation of this play (and something that marks it out from their past work) is that there is no attempt at providing a voiceover for the hearing audience. Instead, surtitles give a brief synopsis of each scene and then they leave the audience to their own devices. Freed from hearing one language while watching another, they are compelled to try and see.
And see they do. In the expression and physicality of this young but seriously talented deaf cast, they absorb, visually, every bit of the humour and silliness that the Bard intended. Indeed they laugh aloud even at the dubious sideways glances of the King's Lords as they consider the terrifying reality of their oaths - to deny themselves the pleasures of the flesh in favour of educating their minds.
There are moments when the full potential of sign language transcends any communication barrier. As Matthew Gurney, as Lord Berowne, argues that the oath is too strict to adhere to, he uses a sign in a way that causes audible gasps in the audience. He signs 'study' with his face pushed up so close to the imaginary book in his hands that he cannot see the world around him, and in that moment, the audience know exactly what he is trying to say – that the men will study at the expense of real life.
There is a real sense of liberation in seeing Deafinitely perform an established work. Here they are able to make one of Shakespeare's works their own. Love's Labour's Lost is often thought of as one of his least accessible plays, but here it is made accessible, and, most importantly, funny for all. I hope this is not the last time Deafinitely Theatre tackle Shakespeare, because as the level of applause indicated as the actors took their bows this was a complete triumph.
You can see this performance once more at Shakespeare's Globe this evening (23 May) at 7.30pm. Tickets - £5 to £35. On-line booking is now closed. Contact the box office on 020 7401 9919.
The performance then goes on tour to Ipswich, Wolverhampton, Derby and Brighton. Look out for dates in our listings as information becomes available. Tour performances will include a spoken-English narrative.