Review: LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

A thoroughly hilarious production kicks off a new RSC era.

By: Apr. 21, 2024
Review: LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST, Royal Shakespeare Theatre
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Review: LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST, Royal Shakespeare Theatre Spring brings renewed energy into the year and there isn’t a better moment for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s recently appointed Co-Artistic Directors Daniel Evans and Tamara Harvey to launch their vision for the organisation. Led by a big name that is certain to attract new audiences who are probably younger than your typical RSC crowd, we hope Love’s Labour’s Lost is setting the tone for what’s coming. If this opening is anything to go by, this upcoming era seems to be adopting Shakespeare for a contemporary audience while maintaining the reverence for the language and the pomp of tradition.

Director Emily Burns makes her RSC debut (alongside many in her team) with a hyper-modern and topical concept. She delivers the perfect sunny-day rom-com that, underneath the shine, explores the rise of the tech bro and the commercialisation of paradise. The Bard’s early comedy fits the 21st Century surprisingly well. Burns sets the scene in the present-day version of bucolic bliss designed by Joanna Scotcher - think natural linen and elevated summer vibes, boat shoes and sandals. The White Lotus, but more whimsical.

Ferdinand, King of Navarre, has invited Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville to spend three years focusing on themselves in a palatial home on his private island in the Pacific when a diplomatic mission arrives to negotiate the return of Aquitaine. The Princess is accompanied by Rosaline, Katherine, and Maria. When four men meet four women, they can’t avoid falling for one another in a Shakespearian rendition of a sitcom. The production is relentlessly hilarious.

Impressive levels of care and attention are given to the physical vocabulary of the actors throughout, resulting in the most genuine laughs we’ve had with Shakespeare in a while. Composer Paul Englishby and sound designer George Dennis come together to toy with the comic vein of the script, highlighting certain movements and closing up the focus on specific details of the mise-en-scène. Their contribution boosts the steadily entertaining, cohesive, and well-rehearsed company who bring the play to life with effortless flair and gorgeous ownership of the text.

Luke Thompson returns to the stage after his Olivier-nominated role in Ivo van Hove’s A Little Life in a remarkable portrayal of a different nature. He is side-splitting. Then again, the whole ensemble is. Brandon Bassir and Eric Stroud complete the trio of lords at the court. They share incredible chemistry, offering the dynamic of a lifelike group of friends alongside Abiola Owokoniran’s Ferdinand. It’s a joy to revel in their ruses and subterfuges. They live in the shadow of the pressures of toxic masculinity, each initially intimidated by the prospect of being seen as a lesser man by his companions. But the men don’t have the upper-hand here.

Review: LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

The Princess and her ladies lay the law. Melanie-Joyce Bermudez is a dignified and sophisticated queen-to-be. Aware of her position in the foreign affairs of her country, she’s fully engaged with her priorities. The direction intensifies this angle of her part, kicking off the show with a brief press conference that cements the political exoskeleton of her piece. Bermudez is joined by Sarita Gabony, Ioanna Kimbook, and Amy Griffiths as her entourage. They support and guide their superior with friendship and loyalty as their act dictates, but, ultimately, are modern women. There’s a very amusing moment when the foursome stalks their recent acquaintances on Instagram to find out more information - just an example of how Burns has transported the original material into an accessible format. 

That’s probably the project’s biggest strength. Burns meets her audience halfway, presenting all the beauty and refinement of Shakespeare’s writing in a relatable and highly enjoyable sleight of hand. Going back to the performances, the main members of the cast have their scene stolen by a handful of riotous side characters. Nathan Foad is at the top of the list. His Costard is a constant source of laughter. From his stunning dramatics to the precision of his physical language, he’s definitely one to watch. Don Armado becomes a Spanish fitness instructor with a camp training routine on this occasion. Thick accent and excessively revealing shorts, Jack Bardoe nestles into the hearts of the public immediately and enthusiastically with the friendliness of a European metrosexual. What a delight.

Though the conclusion of the play is an anomaly for a comedy, the change in mood doesn’t take away from the fun that’s been had until then. If anything, the news of the king’s death only turns the plot more realistic. Burns doesn’t abandon the commentary of the beginning, ending her debut with a stirring element of emotional pause. It’s another exquisite choice, the cherry on top of an extraordinary production.

Love's Labour's Lost runs at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until 18 May.

Photo Credits: Johan Persson


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