Yes, we like it – a very modern Bard is revealed at Tring’s Pendley Shakespeare Festival

If I were a game show contestant and asked the million dollar question ‘who was the most famous English author and playwright ever?’ the money would surely be as good as mine.

But I had only ever made contact with Shakespeare on paper in a school classroom rather than seeing actors in the flesh.

Pendley Shakespeare Festival in its 64th year with Love's Labour's Lost. Photo by Adam Trigg

Pendley Shakespeare Festival in its 64th year with Love's Labour's Lost. Photo by Adam Trigg

At least that was until I had the chance to see this year’s 64th offering set in the spectacular grounds of Pendley Manor Hotel.

Seeing Shakespeare’s work come alive before your very eyes and hearing the words hang in the country air of Middle England is surely enough to sway any sceptic?

My first foray into live Shakespeare, along with Gazette colleague Victoria Bull, was to the comedy As You Like It – albeit as a time-warp version set in the 1960s, with actors in hippy dress.

And we were so smitten by the Pendley Open Air Shakespeare festival 2013 that we just had to come back for more a week later.

Pendley Shakespeare Festival in its 64th year with Love's Labour's Lost. Photo by Adam Trigg

Pendley Shakespeare Festival in its 64th year with Love's Labour's Lost. Photo by Adam Trigg

Love’s Labour’s Lost did not disappoint – jam-packed full of witty dialogue and plenty of amusing japes, the play is typical Bard, though this version is the theatre company’s moving interpretation set in England during 1914 – the start of the First World War.

In fact, a pre-conflict theme flowed together so well that people would be forgiven for assuming Wills himself predicted the 1914 battles.

The setting for Love’s Labour’s Lost is the University of Oxford, where Ferdinand, King of Navarre, and three spirited chums decide to swear off the ladies and concentrate on studying.

Well, you can imagine how long that lasts. The four musketeers fall madly in love and the comedy ensues – cue love letter mix-ups, disguises as Russian exchange students, marriage proposals and standard tomfoolery.

Pendley Shakespeare Festival in its 64th year with Love's Labour's Lost. Photo by Adam Trigg

Pendley Shakespeare Festival in its 64th year with Love's Labour's Lost. Photo by Adam Trigg

The audience, bound together by the love of the written word, groaned and guffawed throughout as the plethora of talent unfolded before them.

Effusive, flamboyant and deliciously over the top, all of the cast worked together so well. It is clear that they are firm friends and apparently have just as much fun at the after-show party as they do together on stage.

As someone who is in love with all things vintage, I was pleased to see that the delicate costumes were something straight out of Downton Abbey – lustrous skirts and elegant cream gloves for the ladies while the strapping young men donned jet black tuxedos, cummerbunds and top hats.

But nothing prepared me for the lump-in-throat finale, which saw the four young men march off to war to the poignant soundtrack of guns.

I urge anyone who has never experienced the magic of Pendley’s Shakespeare Festival to mark a date in their diaries for next year. A tender balance between humour and heartfelt emotion, Love’s Labour’s Lost shaped up to be everything I wanted it to be – and more.