Rene Magritte, "The Curse," 1963
Shakespeare rarely has anything specific to say about the locations of his plays, other than identifying them by name. His geography is notoriously vague, and sometimes unreliable (Milan is a seaport in The Tempest). Though he likes setting his action in European places that would have seemed exotic to most of his audience (Venice, Vienna, Verona, Sicily, Bohemia), in his theatre all these places would have looked nearly identical, since the stage of the Globe remained virtually unchanged from play to play. Scenic specificity would have come largely from the costumes, which would often reflect contemporary fashon (nearly all Shakespeare plays were richly "modern dress" productions).
Much has changed in 400 years, and because Shakespeare's scenic directions are both suggestive and vague, and because Shakespeare's universality seems to apply to virtually all cultures and ages, the variety of scenic invention in modern productions has been almost infinite. One of the great things about working with Shakespeare is that he sets you free, and contemporary designers have embraced this freedom with gusto.
Shakespeare's Navarre, the home of Love's Labor's Lost, is a typical opportunity. Navarre was a Medieval kingdom near the Pyrenees, bordering Spain and France, in what is now Basque country. The play takes place entirely in this kingdom; actually it all happens in the park outside the King's home.This is all we know, and all we need to know.There are no references to Basques, to cheese, to goats, to mountains, or to names with x's in them. Navarre floats like a fairy tale kingdom, untethered from google pinpointing.
In thinking about what Navarre might look, we began with the play itself--not its stage directions but its specific character. Love's Labor's Lost is a wonderfully stylized comedy, light and playful, full of linguistic and choreographed patterns; it's an aristocratic world far more fanciful and artificial than any we actually live in. Kenneth Branagh's film version of the play subtracted most of the play and added a lot of Cole Porter, and the results were mixed--but his impulses are understandable, since style, elegance and silliness are what this play needs.
In London this spring I walked past the Prada store and saw this in the window:
And immediately I thought that looks like Navarre! Or rather, this looks like what Navarre's visiting young ladies from France might wear, and the ladies always set the stage for fashion. Truly these are outfits for a Princess and her entourage. They are contemporary without belonging to any one decade. They are clothes for now, combining elements of the 20's and the 50's. They are light, and wittily patterned without being fussy. They make you think of holiday and romance. And then there's the preposterous ostrich skin luggage.
And the hats! European ladies of class and fun and distinction absolutely must have hats, and very nice hats too. Here's a cloche of Prada's, in the next window.
Lovely, no? I was so taken with the Prada spring collection that I asked our board if we could spend our entire endowment and buy out the London store for our show--well, half the store. After a not very long deliberation, this proposal was rejected. So I showed these pictures to our gifted costume designer, Ashley Gamba, and asked if she could create a comparable collection for our girls on shoestring budget, and since she works for THEATREWORKS, where there are no limits on aspirations, she said sure, no problem. You will see her lovely work on our lovely lasses in two weeks. And I asked a young milliner of our acquaintance, who has just returned from triumphs in Paris, if he might possibly make us adorable great hats---for free. With perhaps just a few surrealistic touches, since our Navarre is also derived from the dream-like surrealism of Miro, Magritte and Dali. He said of course, no problem. And so he has; the hats are winging their way to us from London as I write. Ladies and Gentlemen, here are the hats of Navarre, designed by the incomparable Harvy Santos.
The Princess of France:
Her very good friend, the snappy Rosaline, who has a stinging wit:
The lovely and very fetching Katherine:
And the fair flighty Maria:
Aren't they wonderful? Take that, Prada! You can see more of Harvy's fabulous work here.
And you can see more of the wonders of Navarre out at Rock Ledge Ranch beginning August 2. Navarre has never looked so good!