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Wednesday, 16 February, 2000, 11:11 GMT
Branagh's musical Bard

Kenneth Branagh in Love's Labour's Lost Talk of the town: Branagh's musical Shakespeare

Kenneth Branagh has unveiled his latest Shakespeare project - taking the Bard into the 1930s.

His all-singing, all-dancing version of Love's Labour's Lost features Fred Astaire dance routines and period songs by Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin.

The production, which stars Branagh, Alicia Silverstone, Timothy Spall and Adrian Lester - was launched at the Berlin Film Festival on Tuesday, and with a special screening in London the same evening.

Alicia Silverstone: Thought Branagh had "lost his mind"
Branagh - who directs and stars in the musical - told reporters in the German capital: "I just loved the songs of this period. They seem to go perfectly with the subject matter of this play."

Shakespeare's courtly rakes become fashionable lounge lizards in Branagh's version, and their pledge to avoid the pleasures of the flesh disappears when they discover aristocratic beauties dressed in Cyd Charisse gowns.

It features Busby Berkeley-style dance routines, including a synchronised swimming sequence. "I love the utter silliness and excessiveness of those swimming pool routines," said Branagh.

But his cast only had three weeks to rehearse - and few of them had any experience in musicals.

'Not Fred Astaire'

Branagh admitted the performances might not be as polished as he would have hoped for. "None of us are Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers," he said.

They are, however, supported by New York stage performer Nathan Lane as the clown, Costard.

A veteran of Broadway shows such as Guys And Dolls and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, he joked: "I tried not to let them drag me down. No, actually, I thought everyone did a terrific job. I didn't feel embarrassed at all."

British comedy star Timothy Spall also features
Alicia Silverstone said she was shocked when Branagh asked her to play a French princess. "I thought he had lost his mind."

But she was full of praise for the British actor and director.

"With him you know exactly what you're doing. I want to work with him again and again and again."

Branagh, who has already made versions of Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing and Henry V, rejected suggestions he was cheapening Shakespeare by turning it into a musical - adding he thought he was taking a "bold step".

He said he hoped the film would encourage people to see Shakespeare on stage.

"Hopefully it can work both ways, and Shakespeare can travel a bit further in film," he added.

The film is released in the UK on 24 March.

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