Culture Writer Hannah Dalgliesh reviews the RSC’s latest production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, praising the directorial choices and cast performances

Final year English literature student.
Images by Johan Persson

In Love’s Labour’s Lost, four men take an oath to study and swear off women. Seems like all will be well…that is until four beautiful women show up and it all goes wrong. It is Shakespeare meets Love Island. It is a brilliant premise and the RSC have outdone themselves again in this fantastic new production.

The seemingly plain and rather formal backdrop gives way almost immediately to a stunning revolving staircase with palm trees and a stage full of musicians. This follows on from a year of phenomenal set reveals last season and does not disappoint. Huge credit must go to Joanna Scotcher for her incredible set and fabulous costumes. It is hard not to enjoy a play involving beer hats, Coca-Cola crocs, pink wigs, and plumes, but the moments of costume reveal and their subtle – and not so subtle! – detail is certainly deserving of high praise.

It is Shakespeare meets Love Island

The Prince (Abiola Owokoniran) and his bizarre entourage (Luke Thompson, Eric Stroud, and Brandon Bassir) shine in the opening of the play. These four are a truly amusing quartet, all unsure of their new oath and not confident in its terms, mimicking and mocking each other with some nice nods to the caricatures of social media madness. Thompson is hysterically funny. If your stomach doesn’t hurt from laughing in the first 15 minutes, then we might be watching a different play. Those who know him from the masterpiece adaptation of A Little Life at the Harold Pinter in 2023 will be stunned at his range: gone is the quiet and loyal friend of that stage, replaced with a cheeky, at times boisterous, and thoroughly charming young Berowne. He is a master of comic timing, intonation, and delivery. He makes responding to his fellow actors look easy, as if he really is riffing off his friends on a night in Navarre with casual ingenuity.

Bermudez shines as the Princess: intelligent, witty, and delightful

Then the women arrive: four women, once again with fantastic costumes and hilarious choreography. Bedecked in sunglasses and each playing a part to mark their male counterparts, we meet the steadfast Princess (Melanie-Joyce Bermudez), the unimpressed Rosaline (Ioanna Kimbook), the elegant Katherine (Amy Griffiths), and the ever-posing Maria (Sarita Gabony). Bermudez shines as the Princess: intelligent, witty, and delightful, she leads her posse of women to the chaos of the men, and from there everything unravels.

Emily Burns, associate director of the National Theatre and the Bridge Theatre, brings every moment of Love’s Labour’s Lost to life with stunning creativity. Her choices of staging, delivery, and balance between individual and group humour makes for a directorial triumph. There are moments of real heartfelt sincerity amongst the side-splitting comedy that speak to her artistic vision and talent.

Emily Burns […] brings every moment of Love’s Labour’s Lost to life with stunning creativity

As the plot thickens and Shakespeare’s script gives us his comedy classic of trickery and deceit, the comedy on stage becomes ever sillier, ever more physical. Hiding behind trees, soliloquising in trees, climbing trees – a series of eavesdropping wonderful misunderstandings with added amusement. There is a smattering of clinging desperately on to the side of the revolving stage, crouching behind plants and tables, and, of course, how could we forget the many delectable song choices?

This is a marvellous production of Love’s Labour’s Lost that truly does not miss a beat and makes for a night of wild entertainment. 

Rating: 5/5

(Love’s Labour’s Lost plays at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until 18th May 2024.)

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