Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost

By John Nathan, October 30, 2008
William Chubb (left) and Peter Bowles in Love’s Labour’s Lost at The Rose Theatre

William Chubb (left) and Peter Bowles in Love’s Labour’s Lost at The Rose Theatre

The Rose Theatre, Kingston, Surrey

First things first. Peter Hall's production is Kingston's Rose Theatre's first home-grown offering since it opened last January; Love's Labour's Lost was the first play to be directed by Hall as the RSC's first artistic director; and Shakespeare's comedy is thought by many to be his first play.

Yet despite an impressive cast including a dapper but dog-eared Peter Bowles as the quixotic Spaniard Adriano who is in lust with Ella Smith's ample-bossomed dairymaid, this difficult work is not the most obvious crowd-pleaser for a venue which receives no public subsidy and is going to have to pack 'em in to survive.

For a start this is a play steeped in often incomprehensible puns and word play, even if much of it is pleasingly obscene. It is also a comedy that ends with a chilling reality check in which death brings an abrupt end to hilarity. The set-up sees the King of Navarre (Dan Fredenburgh) and his lords pledge three years of self-improving study during which they will see no women, eat little food and hardly sleep. But then Rachel Pickup's serene but sexy French Princess arrives with a coterie of ladies, after which Shakespeare has most of his characters undermine piety by spending the next three hours flirting and talking about sex.
But aside from its humanist instincts, what I've always loved about this play is its explicit irreverence for power.

It's not just that the King's feet are kept firmly on the ground by Finbar Lynch's bold Lord Berowne who persuasively argues that his monarch's oath is "flat treason against the kingly state of youth", even the common people know hypocrisy when they see it. "Walk aside the true folk," says Costard as he leaves the stage to the oath-breaking upper classes, "and let the traitors stay."

Hall provides a rare evening of classic Shakespeare with all the Elizabethan trimmings. Yet on this final preview night, London's newest theatre was not much more than half-full, even though the rewards, if slow to arrive, are plentiful. (Tel: 0871 230 1552)

Last updated: 10:51am, October 30 2008