Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Love's Labour's Lost

Shakey's wordy, playful comedy doesn't make the journey from page to stage all that often. From the evidence of the recent RSC production, that's a definite shame.

The bachelor King of Navarre decides to forswear hunting, feasting and female company to pursue three years of studious self-improvement. And being a Royal, he's easily able to 'persuade' his three attendant lords to sign up to the palace penance fest.

Before the ink is dry on the parchment, along comes a delegation comprising the young Princess of France and her attendant ladies. How many? Go on, guess.

Masculine resolution dissolves as the king and his lords are pierced by Cupid's darts, while resolutely attempting to hide their lovesickness and broken promises from one another.

Meanwhile a fantastical Spanish aristocrat, an ancient schoolmaster and country clod poll offer sidleights on the dizzying ups and downs of love and lust.

Director Greg Doran dusts off the play, dresses his cast in sumptuous Elizabethan costume and delivers a production that's fast-paced, funny and, at times, surprisingly affecting.

All eyes, of course, on David Tennant as the wry, keen-witted Lord Berowne. And he doesn't disappoint, speaking the complex verse with clarity and warmth, making it seem fresh-minted. He has a stand-up's rapport with his audience -and is very funny.

Only weakness, for me, is the decision to cast a young woman (instead of a boy) as Moth, the pert pageboy. The actress is tiny, but not in the least boyish. Halfway through my companion and I realize simultaneously the nature of the problem - it's all a bit Janette Krankie.

In its closing moments, the play takes a sudden, daring turn from comedy to near-tragedy. Doran manages the gear-change with aplomb.

And the final melancholy image of a single owl swooping eerily over the audience - a touch of true theatre magic.

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