LOVE’S LABOURS LOST: William Shakespeare
RSC: Main House – Stratford Upon Avon
Info and Tickets: www.rsc.org.uk
Runs: 2h 45m, one interval, till 14 March 2015
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 18 10 14
Astonishing reappraisal of this tricky play
With a superb stroke of imaginative genius David Luscombe, with his team, has transformed this rather formal comedy – which in places is quite difficult for us in the 21st Century – into a comedic delight that has something to say. It is hugely funny in places, but this is a case, par excellence, of having your cake and eating it. For sitting behind the comedy an ominous darkness.
Luscombe sets the play in late Edwardian England. What we have, then, leaving aside references to kings and princesses, is a pampered group of English aristocracy who have nothing better to do that swan around making silly oaths and playing games about love. And the women are as pampered and foolish as the men. They are surrounded by the accoutrements of their oppressive class – servants and pompous idiots of school-teachers and vicars. This is quintessentially England, a perception underpinned by a poignant Elgar-like score from Nigel Hess. And as you sit watching the comedy unfold you can’t help thinking: ‘You have no idea what’s coming.’
How thrilling is the dramatic tension this creates. The change in atmosphere at the end is the storm breaking, and Luscombe orchestrates the whole beautifully. The four women come into the driving seat, in the vanguard of change. The final song is given initially to the young and innocent (and how wonderful to find one of the servant with a fiddle); the women join them and we see, almost in a sepia photograph what we shall miss. It’s a Chekhovian moment of reappraisal and uncertainty.
Enormously strong performances all round. Sam Alexander and Edward Bennett (Navarre and Berowne) ably lead the chaps, they may be pampered but they hold on to our affections. Great comedy from John Hodgkinson (Armado) with a terrific pairing with Peter McGovern’s Moth. Nor should we miss Nick Haverson’s dotty Costard, and the other double act of David Horovitch and Thomas Wheatley (Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel) – all of whom prove that as long as you keep your feet (or boots) firmly on the ground you can be as broad as you like and still be believed.
The whole thing sits beautifully in Simon Higlett’s elegant set in Oliver Fenwick’s equally elegant lighting.
The RSC often surprises you – occasionally it astounds you. This is one of those occasions.
Sam Alexander – King of Navarre
Peter Basham – Gamekeeper
William Belchambers – Longaville
Edward Bennett – Berowne
Nick Haverson – Costard
John Hodgkinson – Don Armado
David Horovitch – Holofernes
Tunji Kasim – Dumaine
Sophie Khan Levy – Housemaid
Oliver Lynes – Footman
Emma Manton – Jaquenetta
Chris McCalphy – Dull
Frances McNamee – Maria
Peter McGovern – Moth
Chris Nayak – Footman
Jamie Newall – Boyet
Roderick Smith – Marcadé
Flora Spencer-Longhurst – Katharine
Michelle Terry – Rosaline
Harry Waller – Gamekeeper
Thomas Wheatley – Sir Nathaniel
Leah Whitaker – Princess of France
Director – Christopher Luscombe
Designer – Simon Higlett
Lighting – Oliver Fenwick
Music – Nigel Hess
Sound – Jeremy Dunn
Movement – Jenny Arnold