Tech reviews

Love’s Labour’s Lost review – tech bros get swiped left in pitch perfect japes | Stage


Royal Shakespeare theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Emily Burns’ modern-day romcom, set on a Pacific island retreat, ramps up the silliness and makes accessible the text’s cloud-parting power and wordplay

Fri 19 Apr 2024 13.53 CEST

This early Shakespearean comedy might be rich in verse but it is a tricky play to pull off for its strained Elizabethan-era wordplay, convoluted subplots and too inevitable downfall of four men who swear off women – only to crack on the arrival of a female convoy.

Emily Burns’ whimsical production does not aim to eke out contemporary messages on masculinity but amps up the silliness, turning it into a modern-day romcom whose joke comes at the expense of Ferdinand (Abiola Owokoniran) and his trio of tech bros, including Bridgerton’s Luke Thompson as the sceptical Berowne.

Here they are chillaxing at a luxury Pacific island retreat when they make their vow of abstention. That pact is undermined the minute they clap eyes on the Princess (Melanie-Joyce Bermudez) and her crew, who snap selfies, swipe left and sunbathe through the course of the play.

The humour is blunt to begin with, especially in its presentation of ancillary characters: Don Armado, the fantastical Spaniard (Jack Bardoe), is played with more than a fleck of Fawlty Towers’ Manuel (he even lets out a “keh?”). Costard (Nathan Foad) wanders around in bathrobe and hotel slippers, Jaquenetta (Marienella Phillips) is a hotel worker who struts around with a silver tray and sticks out her tongue.

But where the physical comedy is crassly overplayed through minor characters, the central lovestruck men, and smartly rejecting women, hit the perfect tone. Burns’ achievement is in the pitch perfect physical comedy here, as well as making the arcane wordplay accessible (on the whole) while preserving the sudden, cloud-parting poetry of the play.

Flirtatious chemistry … Ioanna Kimbook (centre) as Rosaline. Photograph: Johan Persson

Thompson seems at home with Shakespearean verse, his Berowne a lovable buffoon, who has flirtatious chemistry with Rosaline (Ioanna Kimbook). The slapstick reaches a thrilling peak as the men write love letters, in hiding: “I do love, and it hath taught me to rhyme and to be melancholy,” says Berowne, ridiculously, and shimmies up a palm tree like a love-struck monkey to conceal himself from the other men who variously hang or hide behind the walls of Joanna Scotcher’s revolving, hotel facade set.

There is another coup de comedy when the men entertain the women while disguised as knights in armour, singing “I Want It That Way”, like a boyband of Tin Men. It all goes on for too long and by the time we get to the antics of the play within a play, it begins to drags. But the stark news about the death of the Princess’s father pulls it back and seems genuinely full of restrained grief in its peculiarly unconventional end.

There is a brief attempt to shoo-in serious, resonant material as the Princess makes her opening speech in Hawaiian, her image magnified on a rolling news channel with news flashes on climate damage. This is too much an isolated point, abandoned for fun and japes. And it is curious that the RSC’s new season, under Daniel Evans and Tamara Harvey’s artistic leadership, is opening with a play quite this frivolous. Then again, like Ferdinand’s retreat, it is high quality frivolousness, and all good corny fun.

• At Royal Shakespeare theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, until 18 May.


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