Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost

Jessica Harris reviews the Royal Shakespeare Company’s latest production.

Set on the balmy Pacific island of Navarre, this production of Love’s Labour’s Lost is a riot of jesting, music and colour. Yet beneath this, expressed in the most poetic of terms, runs a thread on the nature of true love and the triviality of wit as a means of expressing such love.

With the feel of a holiday romance, in surroundings which seem like the next best thing to Paradise, four young men encounter four young women. But, since Ferdinand, King of Navarre, and his three lords, Berowne, Dumaine and Longaville have sworn an oath to spend three years in scholarship, fasting, and avoiding women, their hands would seem to be tied. The Princess of France, along with her three women, Rosaline, Katherine and Maria, are also, it appears, not interested in courtship. Their mission is to recover the land of Aquitaine from the King. Yet it takes but an instant or so for the men to agree to break their oath. Cue much macho behaviour as bravado, sparring and bar-room brawling ensue.

Whilst the women are not indifferent to these attempts at courtship, they are disturbed by the jests and banter, calling out the witticisms as ‘wormwood’. They are even more disturbed by the fact that the men have perjured themselves. When the Princess declares she will go into mourning for a year for her deceased father, they require the men to wait this time out in a hermitage, remote from worldly pleasures, before they come again seeking their hands in marriage.

Combative and yet playful, the women swap identities with each other to toy with the men’s gullibility. Then they pretend not to recognise them disguised as Knights singing I Want It That Way (think Backstreet Boys video set in an airport departure lounge), their armour ridiculous rather than shining.

Incidental characters add more comedic elements. Jack Bardoe, gives a hugely over-the-top but hilarious performance as Don Armado, whilst Nathan Foad as Costard delivers a wonderfully comical speech on the benefits of guerdon over remuneration, his pronunciation becoming more and more absurd. The play within a play delivered by Armado, Costard and others, is as farcical as any playing by the mechanicals within the better-known and more frequently produced Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The production pays homage to the life of the leisured rich in its staging. A rotating set, dominated by two curved flights of stairs joined by a balcony, with palm trees in the centre, suggests the entitlement of royalty. The conversion of the stage to a golf course with putting green, golf buggy and all, underlines the lavish lifestyles of the well-to-do.

In an all-round strong cast, Melanie-Joyce Bermudez gave a powerful and dignified performance as the Princess, conveying a sense of dignity and an understanding of what real love is to the proceedings. The play’s ending works to confirm the status and authority of the women as she becomes Queen, to the accompaniment of a beautiful song, sung in a language resonant of Pacific islands.

Luke Thompson as Berowne delivered poetry with clarity and intensity, his dry wit revealing a character full of contradiction and self-justification. Jordan Metcalfe as Boyet, the Princess’ attendant, played an adaptable interlocutor between men and women, shifting gradually from a civil servant with suit, tie and greased-back hair, to a chilled-out guy eager to have his chance for self-expression.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is the first production in the inaugural season of the RSC’s new Co-Artistic Directors Daniel Evans and Tamara Harvey and it certainly makes its mark. Directed by Emily Burns, with set and costumes designed by Joanna Scotcher and the composer Paul Englishby, it’s at the RSC in Stratford until 18th May. For further information see

Pics – Johan Persson.