Oliver Ford Davies
Following a Hamlet bursting with inspiration and excitement, Gregory Doran directs largely the same cast in a production of Love’s Labour’s Lost that is much more of a mixed bag. As much could be said for the play itself and Shakespeare’s indulgence in sub-plot grotesques and arcane word-play carries some of the responsibility for the more problematic aspects of the production.
However, Doran needn’t go quite so far down the route of overt crowd-pleasing that made his musical Merry Wives of Windsor, a couple of years ago, so derided by many. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, he loads on the gags and jollity with a trowel; this may be to compensate for the weaknesses of the play but much of it feels like a step too far.
There’s a preening Spaniard (Joe Dixon’s Don Armado streaked through with a dampening melancholy), a frenetic semaphoring clown (Ricky Champ as Costard), stick-banging rusticals, an impossibly impish page (Zoe Thorne) and a double-act of gurning prelate (Jim Hooper’s Sir Nathaniel) and garrulous pedant (Oliver Ford Davies as Holofernes). Along with these worthies, eccentrics and wispy ciphers, comes a knob joke, an arse joke, a hand-job gag, funny accents, funny beards and staged corpsing.
For those not scooping themselves off the floor from all the mirth, there’s plenty that’s more subtle and sophisticated. David Tennant is very funny, even when suggestively playing with an audience he has eating out of his hand. His lithe and cocky Berowne, quick-witted and attractive, is a fine complement to his brilliant Hamlet.
The lovers’ scenes are beautifully done, the great set-piece, with the quartet of would-be ascetics revealing their romantic subterfuges a delight. Perched in Francis O’Connor’s splendid tree, which dominates the stage, Tennant commands from on high in every sense. He is ably supported by Sam Alexander’s Dumaine, Edward Bennett as Navarre and Tom Davey’s gangly Longaville.
Mariah Gale, in the latest of a run of Shakespearean heroines, gives us a Princess of France both commanding and vulnerable while Nina Sosanya’s beautiful and sparky Rosaline foreshadows Beatrice’s sparring with Benedict in her edgy flirting with Berowne.
Marcade’s interruption of the merriment, the play within a play that casts forward to that of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with news of the death of the King of France is highly affecting and there’s an even greater poignancy in the finale, as the playfulness of youth painfully eases into maturity and responsibility.
If the brush that Doran chooses is too broad for much of the evening, this is a never less than likeable show and the best scenes are what we’ve come to expect from this director. Given its strengths, it’s a shame that Love’s Labour’s Lost won’t be joining Hamlet in London this winter.
Read the musicOMH review of the RSC production of Hamlet, starring David Tennant, here.