REVIEW: Love’s Labour’s Lost – Royal Shakespeare Theatre – Stratford-Upon-Avon


In a daring and inventive adaptation, the Royal Shakespeare Company presents Love’s Labour’s Lost as a vibrant exploration of folly, privilege, and societal critique. Director Emily Burns orchestrates a refreshing reimagining of Shakespeare’s classic comedy, transporting audiences to a modern-day White Lotus-esque Hawaiian paradise fraught with tension, humour, and introspection.

One of the most breathtaking elements of this production is the immense and consistent creative vision. From the moment the set is revealed, the audience are enveloped in an immersive world meticulously crafted by Burns and her creative team. The set design, reminiscent of an opulent island retreat, exudes luxury and excess, serving as a stark contrast to the characters’ inner turmoil and societal critique. Every detail, from the alloys of the golf-buggy wheels to the meticulously placed artificial grass, contributes to the illusion of paradise.

At the heart of the production lies a stellar cast, each member embodying their characters with depth, nuance, and a touch of absurdity. Tony Gardner’s portrayal of Holofernes is a masterclass in ferocious absurdity, channelling the idiosyncrasies of the character with impeccable comedic timing. Nathan Foad’s Costard, meanwhile, delivers a performance brimming with physical comedy and wit. With impeccable comic timing and finely tuned physical comedy, Foad brings this beloved character to life with boundless charisma. From his first appearance on stage, Costard captivates audiences with his endearing quirks and irreverent humour, effortlessly stealing every scene he’s in. Whether delivering witty one-liners or engaging in slapstick antics, Foad’s Costard is a joy to watch, adding an extra layer of delight to an already stellar production.

Luke Thompson’s portrayal of Berowne in his RSC debut is a standout performance that exudes charm, wit, and complexity. With his captivating stage presence and magnetic charisma, Thompson effortlessly captures the essence of this conflicted character, drawing audiences into Berowne’s inner turmoil and existential musings. Through his nuanced interpretation, Thompson brings depth and authenticity to Berowne’s journey, navigating the character’s evolution with grace and subtlety, making him a compelling and unforgettable presence on stage. Alongside Thompson, Melanie-Joyce Bermudez captivates with her measured, emotional and captivating performance as the Princess.

Marienella Phillips’ portrayal showcases the power of presence and the art of storytelling through silence. Despite her character, Jaquenetta, having minimal lines, Phillips commands the stage with a magnetic presence and nuanced expressions that speak volumes. Her performance is a masterclass in subtlety, as she effortlessly conveys Jaquenetta’s emotions, desires, and inner world through her physicality and facial expressions alone. Phillips’ ability to inhabit her character with depth and authenticity ties the entire production together.

The integration of traditional live music not only enhances the sensory experience but also transports the audience to a world akin to a luxury Hawaiian retreat. With melodic strains reminiscent of tropical paradise, the music sets the tone for each scene, creating an ambiance of relaxation and indulgence. Yet, beneath the surface, the music also serves to underscore the underlying tensions and desires of the characters, mirroring the conflicts and complexities of their relationships. From playful ukulele melodies to soulful Hawaiian tunes, the music becomes a storytelling device in its own right, weaving a rich tapestry of emotions and moods that deepen the audience’s connection to the narrative.

Similarly, the subtle yet impactful sound design further immerses the audience in the world of the play. From the gentle rustling of palm leaves to the distant crash of waves against the shore, every sound serves to evoke the sensory experience of being on a remote island paradise. Yet, amidst the tranquil sounds of nature, there is an underlying tension, a sense of unrest that mirrors the characters’ inner conflicts and struggles. The sound design acts as a subtle yet powerful tool, heightening the dramatic tension and enhancing the emotional impact of key moments, ultimately drawing the audience deeper into the world of Love’s Labour’s Lost and enriching their theatrical experience.

Joanna Scotcher’s set and costume design are a testament to her remarkable talent and keen eye for detail. With impressive consistency and acute attention to detail, Scotcher creates a visual landscape that is both sumptuous and thought-provoking. Every element, from the makeshift costumes of the Nine Worthies to the meticulously curated details of the set, serves to transport the audience to a contemporary paradise with a twist. The branding of the ‘hotel’ adorns costumes, set pieces, and props, adding layers of authenticity to the production and blurring the lines between fiction and reality. This branding serves as a subtle yet powerful commentary on modern consumerism and excess, inviting audiences to ponder the implications of a world where even leisure is commodified. Scotcher’s visionary design choices transform the stage into a feast for the eyes, where opulence and satire intertwine to create a captivating theatrical experience.

Furthermore, Neil Austin’s lighting design masterfully illuminates the stage, creating dynamic atmospheres that shift seamlessly between moments of comedy, drama, and introspection. Shelley Maxwell’s movement direction accentuates the physicality of the performances, adding depth and dimension to the characters’ interactions and comedic moments.

Overall, Love’s Labour’s Lost at the RSC is a triumph of contemporary theatre, offering a thought-provoking and visually stunning reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s classic comedy. With its blend of wit, satire, and social commentary, this production invites audiences to reflect on the complexities of human nature while revelling in the sheer joy of live performance. In the first play of the new season, it seems the RSC is well and truly firing on all creative cylinders.

Love’s Labour’s Lost plays until 18th May 2024. Tickets available here.

Photography throughout from Johan Perrson.






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