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Love's Labour's Lost, Viaduct Theatre, Halifax


There is a great chemistry between the Northern Broadside casts that seems to get better every time you see them and which on this occasion helps bring one of Shakespeare's less performed comedies to glorious life.

Love's Labour's Lost might have an undeserved reputation for being inaccessible, full of references and jokes now long rendered arcane to modern audiences, but in the hands of director and company founder Barrie Rutter one can allow oneself to ignore all this nonsense and marvel instead at the youthful joy at which the game of love and all its ludicrous solecisms is enacted for our delight.

Stand-out performances come from Matt Connor as Berowne and Catherine Kinsella as Rosalind who revel in the barbs of their cruel courtship and offer a refreshingly worldly balance to the high-minded wooing of the play's central if less entertaining characters - the King of Navarre played by Owen Findlay and Sophia Hatfield's Princess of France.

But despite the high-mindedness of the text, there are lashings of fun to be had even if we don't - quite - still subscribe to too many of the stereotypes of the Bard's day. The “fight” scene between the strutting Spaniard Don Adriano de Armado and a vigorously sweating Costard the oafish yokel is particularly enjoyable as they clash over the understated charms of Jaquenetta, the dairy maid.

And even for those of us that could have lived quite happily with a slightly truncated version without the inclusion of the Worthies' labouring play within the play, the action and laughs did not allow time to lag in this brilliantly evocative former industrial setting.

Coming so close on the heels of the excellent We Are Three Sisters by Blake Morrison, this promises to be a vintage year for Northern Broadsides as it celebrates its 20th birthday. The company was created by Rutter, based, he says on “one good idea: an all-Northern cast performing a classic play in non-velvet venues”. This, the company's fifth collaboration with Staffordshire's New Vic Theatre, certainly stuck to the formula and succeeded admirably. We can now look forward to more to come including a new version of The Government Inspector and in 2013, the return to the British stage for the first time in five years of director Sir Jonathan Miller, who will oversee a production of Githa Sowerby's Rutherford & Son.

Touring to 5 May (northern-broadsides.co.uk)