RSC Key member, Beth Sharrock, has written a review on Love's Labour's Lost. BP £5 tickets are available for this comic verve.
Love's Labour's Lost is showing at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until the 14th of March.
The RSC has mastered in Love’s Labour’s Lost a play which unapologetically mocks people in love. To their faces. Were Shakespeare alive today, his problematic, comedic masterpiece may be encapsulated in an ironic ‘like’ for one of those detestably cringeworthy “Me and My Girl #theone #loveher” updates.
On the page, Shakespeare’s lesser performed comedy reads like the Bard’s sonneteering run-through. No less than five lovers in the plays pen odes to their mistresses, which makes the play read more like an anthology than a piece of drama. And indeed, the lover’s action shows itself as much on paper as it does between people.
The power of the penned verse in this play is, like forerunner to Malvolio’s blundering interpretation skills, the production’s biggest gag. Picture this; four young academic Edwardian gentlemen reclining in their library walled parlour, vowing to sign their lives and desires in favour of strict study. Freedom of food, sleep, and most importantly – women – are all forsworn by the gallants for three years.
Now picture these litigiously bound men in their dressing gowns, weeping and pining and waxing positively rhetorical for four beautiful strangers who have taken their fortified court, and even more impregnable vows, by storm. What’s more? In what feels like an unspoken jeer of “Berowne and Rosaline sitting-in-a-tree”, their odes of painful love are all overheard by each other. What’s even more? The scene stealing comedy is provided by Luscombe in the form of a teddy bear.
that's right, a teddy bear.
"For your fair sakes have we neglected time,
Play'd foul play with our oaths: your beauty, ladies,
Hath much deform'd us"
The sonnet scene is one which threatens to be a laborious wade through the mud of the inaccessible, superfluous, verbose, grandiloquent sophistry (see where I’m going with this?) that has built itself into a harmful skeleton in the closet of ‘Shakespearephobia’. This production side steps this landmine as smoothly as an Edwardian slick comb ‘do. Our love sick brotherhood have just as great a laugh at each other’s attempts at poetry as we do, with their awkward half rhymes and (more than slightly) tearful deliveries.
The relationship between the forsworn men is beautifully crafted by Sam Alexander (King of Navarre), William Belchambers (Longaville), Edward Bennett (Berowne) and Tunji Kasim (Dumaine). The group so naturally navigate a convincing, if not naive, devotion to learning astray into the murkier waters of unrequited love; which is so artfully acted that one truly believes the feeling is a new, and threatening, experience. Bennett courts Berowne’s monologues with all the joyful angst of a reluctant lover. Perhaps even more skilful is the group’s tackling of one of Shakespeare’s greatest unwritten scenes – an all-singing, all-dancing, all-bearded Muscovite serenade.
"We are wise girls to mock our lovers so."
The play’s female temptations are played with a measure of flirtation, modesty and downright girlish giggles by Frances McNee (Maria), Flora Spencer-Longhurst (Katharine), Michelle Terry (Rosaline) and Leah Whitaker (the confident Princess of France). The Princess and her women are a perfectly choreographed, commanding hand to mould the putty mess of unrequited lovers. Measured touches of a more paternal relationship are embraced beautifully by the baby-faced Peter McGovern (Moth) and John Hodgkinson (Don Armado).
These stunning performances are not without an original score by Nigel Hess so powerful and emotive it seems to inhabit the stage like an extra character. A funny, sad, reflective one. Think Shakespeare’s perfect wise fool expressed in strains of violin.
"Our wooing doth not end like an old play"
The beauty of this play is in its promises. Or rather, it’s broken ones. The stunning Edwardian interiors and idyllic rural exteriors promise us blossoming romance. The strength and conviction with which our lovers spar, as only Shakespearean ones can, with wits and disguise and each other’s pride promises an amorous resolution. The farcically bombastic play-within-a-play promises a parade of heroes who will be uninterruptedly hilarious. What we see in the play’s concluding scenes is our own hopeful optimism interrupted with a French messenger ringing the death of a beloved father, who also happens to be the King of France, with this news the play’s vows begin to tragically unravel. Gregory Doran and Christopher Luscombe’s choice to stage this scene as a precedent to the Great War is an insightful and painful light thrown upon some of our own broken promises to each other as nations and as people. Glimmering performances, artfully playful direction by Luscombe and an aesthetic itself to fall head over heels for promise a display of how Shakespeare’s comedy should be executed.
On this, it delivers.