Love's Labour's Lost

William Shakespeare
Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

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Brandon Bassir, Abiola Owokoniran and Eric Stroud as Dumaine, Ferdinand and Longaville, with Luke Thompson (Berowne) in background Credit: Johan Persson
Luke Thompson (Berowne) Credit: Johan Persson
The Princess's ladies get the spa treatment Credit: Johan Persson
The four knights (plus guitar) Credit: Johan Persson
Tony Gardner (Holofernes) and Iskander Eaton (Moth Credit: Johan Persson
Jack Bardoe (Don Armado) Credit: Johan Persson
AmyGriffiths, Ioanna Kimbook, Sarita Gabony, Melanie-Joyce Bermude as Katherine, Rosaline, Maria and Princess Credit: Johan Persson

Welcome to Paradise island, with its private spa and golf course, serenading musicians and a palace that looks as if William Randolph Hearst’s Xanadu has been magically airlifted from California to Hawaii.

No wonder those callow youths Longaville and Dumaine, with the mildly more screwed-on Berowne, are willing to sacrifice three years of their young lives for the pain of living in luxury at their host Ferdinand’s expense, after dropping their mobile phones as if for a TV reality show.

There is a catch, of course. In their studies, they must abjure contact with women, but when a princess arrives with her three well-connected female companions, nature does its work. But Jack does not have his Jill—at least not yet. For the sensible ladies are not to be won over so easily by these holiday Romeos. Come back to the real world a year from now, they say, and we’ll see.

It’s a bold leap of imagination by director Emily Burns, given tangible form in Joanna Scotcher’s magnificent, revolving set, to air freight Shakespeare’s location from Navarre to the Pacific, where Ferdinand, a man with no known antecedent, has bought himself an island hideaway like some present-day zillionaire.

There’s the contemporary commentary for you, but on the top of that, Burns has great fun with what is still a comedy after all, even to the extent of introducing four Monty Python-esque armoured knights, with the difference that one of them plays the guitar. And if the 16th century battles of wits gets a little hard to follow, there is plenty of stage action to maintain the humour.

Luke Thompson is a sympathetic Berowne, tormented by and afraid of his feelings of love and their consequences, and I suspect irresistibly appealing to the ladies, not only of the Princess’s company as, in what might be an audition for Stage Pin-up 2024, he strips off his shirt. Not quite Poldark, but close.

Abiola Owokoniran and Ioanna Kimbook give strong performances as Ferdinand and Berowne’s beloved Rosaline, while Nathan Foad and Jack Bardoe and give full-force foolery as Costard and a Spanish tennis-playing Don Armado, whom Sr. Nadal might sue for impersonation.

Above all, Tony Gardner—best known as the drippy, cheating husband in Last Tango in Halifax—is superb as a vain, punctilious Holofernes, revelling in the language and with a great sense of timing that pings with the other actors.

It all makes for a joyful evening—but one that gently argues the meaningfulness of life that goes on beyond the closed world of the super-rich. The show closes not with the usual bucolic song of celebration, but one sung in Hawaiian, a language that one imagines the incomer Ferdinand would not understand.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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