Pros: Fabulous set, glorious costumes and a star turn from Edward Bennett.
Cons: You’ll leave the show light-hearted and empty headed – there’s not much food for thought here.
It’s not often that this humble blogger gets to review a production at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Much less a production by the mighty Royal Shakespeare Company. Out of loyalty to my usual fringe haunts and those small, resourceful theatre companies that conjure magic on a budget of £2.50, there was a small part of me that wanted to dislike Love’s Labour’s Lost. Couldn’t do it. This production is absolutely adorable.
The action is framed by the turreted gateway of an old English manor house, and the play opens in the clubby warmth of a wood-panelled library. Surrounded by the trappings of learning, the King of Navarre makes a pledge to forgo wine and women for three years, in favour of study and monkish seclusion. He is joined in this by the nice but dim Dumaine and Longaville, who would not be out of place in The Drones Club, and eventually by the recalcitrant Berowne, who confidently foresees some trouble ahead.
That trouble takes the shape of the visiting Princess of France and her three ladies, who glide elegantly onto the manor house lawn and immediately steal the heart of all four would-be scholars. The decision to set this production in the Edwardian era is, in my view, entirely justified by the costuming opportunities that that offers. The ladies are dressed in gorgeous, slim-fitting Edwardian gowns with beautiful button details and contrast revers, neat hats and jaunty accessories. With the sky behind them lit bright blue, it really is a Merchant Ivory-style feast for the eyes.
Of course, the fellas are pretty dismayed to find themselves so bowled over and in imminent danger of being forsworn. When night falls they each creep up to the parapet, in pyjamas and dressing-gowns, to test their declarations of love. As each new chap arrives on the roof the prior chap finds a hiding place, until eventually there’s a man behind every chimney, and the secret loves are secret no more. Within a production which my 12 year-old companion accurately described as “properly hilarious”, this scene is the comical highlight; utterly absurd and full of brilliant physical comedy. Had Elizabeth I seen this production, I am quite sure she would have demanded that Will write more plays with teddy bears.
The RSC have taken this lightest of comedies and frothed it up some more. There’s not a lot of storyline, so this production very successfully bulks things up with showtunes, including a musical performance of the Nine Worthies that is enough to scratch anybody’s panto itch. Shakespeare’s various comedy characters are rendered vividly, and Christopher Luscombe’s resourceful direction ensures that they have more to rely on than wordplay for laughs. Edward Bennett’s Berowne is more gay best friend than red-hot lover, but unquestionably the star of the show. As hilarious as this production undoubtedly is, I’m not sure that Shakespeare can take credit for more than a small fraction of the laughs. He has, however, inspired this cast and creative team to great heights.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Christopher Luscombe
Booking Until: 18 March 2017
Box Office: 020 7930 8800
Booking Link: https://tickets.trh.co.uk/WEBPAGES/EntaWebShow/ShowPerformance.aspx