Shakespearean steampunk romance
In the steampunk universe, there are kings, queens and epic battles fought over love or loot.
It’s just the kind of place where The Bard would feel at home.
“The steampunks are all about imagination and creativity,” says Sharon Malone, who is directing a steampunk version of William Shakespeare’s comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost.
“It works beautifully with this whole theme.”
Steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy and fiction set in an era where steam power is still used. It rebels against the present, through its fashion, music and art, by combining clothes – corsets and top hats – from the Victorian era with futuristic, bizarre inventions. Think of the technology and fictional machines found in stories by Jules Vern and H.G. Wells.
It’s no wonder that Love’s Labour’s Lost, one of Shakespeare’s early comedies, works brilliantly in the anachronistic steampunk era.
“What’s better than a bunch of geeks, living in this observatory, looking up at the stars but stuck in this geek world of science?” Malone says as she tells the tale of King Ferdinand of Navarre, who decrees that he and his three noble companions – Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville – must devote themselves to three years of study and swear off women during the pursuit.
“Nobody seems to get that this plan is really flawed.”
The oath, however, falters when the Princess of France arrives at the city’s gates, with her entourage of lovely ladies, to settle a land deal gone bad.
Far from being coy, dainty lasses, the princess and her friends are feisty airship pirates in this Emerald Pig production, who arrive on a 20-foot-long dirigible, or “lighter-than-air” craft, toting ray guns and armour.
“These girls are whizzing around in their world, living life to the fullest,” says Malone.
“But when they get to Navarre, there is no welcoming party and they find out they have to stay outside the city, in a field. They are not really impressed.”
Jason Etherington, a Pitt Meadows actor tasked with bringing Ferdinand to life, understands why the king would issue such a silly decree.
“He’s a younger man, who is keen to make his mark, keen to impress the world,” says Etherington, whose acted in three Bard on the Bandstand productions.
“He’s just taken over from his father and wants to build on his legacy. He’d like to make Navarre one of the most accredited places of learning in the world.”
When the king’s friends second his bizarre plan, the king can’t help being excited.
“Who is going to say no to the king? He doesn’t get challenged,” adds Etherington.
But when the princess arrives, everyone instantly (and comically) falls in love.
“It’s amazing how quickly the princess changes everything,” says Etherington.
“It’s like Friends or something. Just the ultimate switch in comedy.”
Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of Shakespeare’s most poetic plays, making the lines just a little bit harder for actors to deliver.
“It’s quite challenging to make it not sound like a nursery rhyme,” says Etherington.
Lauren Campbell, who plays his love interest, the Princess of France, agrees.
This is the second time the aspiring actress has attempted a Shakespeare production, but auditioning for the lead role meant she had to conquer several fears.
“If Shakespeare is not done well ... you feel like you’ve done a disservice to such beautiful writing,” says Campbell.
She’s glad she eased herself into a lead role.
“I realize that it’s like another piece of writing in that as long as you come from a place where you find the character inside you, the words will come and will make sense.”
To remember the script, Campbell dissected each line, figured out how she’d say it in modern English, then recited them while doing mundane tasks such as folding laundry or washing her face.
“Getting it into your body is a big thing,” Campbell explains, “especially with a play that you find really challenging. So if something happens on stage that is unexpected, it doesn’t throw you off.”
In addition to its lyrical dialogue, Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of a few Bard plays that strays from the usual ending. There’s isn’t a marriage, or tragedy.
“It’s wonderful to be able to bring these plays that were written centuries ago to stage with a modern twist,” says Campbell.
“There’s not a happy ending, but there’s a sense of hope and you hope they live happily every after. I love those movies where you are left thinking, ‘I wonder where they’ll end up."
Bard on the Bandstand
Love’s Labour’s Lost plays July 19 to July 22 in Pitt Meadows’ Spirit Square and July 26-29 at Memorial Peace Park in Maple Ridge. Shows at 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sundays. Bring a lawn chair and blanket and donation for the food bank. Shows are free.