Love’s Labour’s Lost is Trevor Nunn’s last production as director of the National. He has directed a charming play that beautifully captures Shakespeare’s innocent comedy about love. However, whilst Shakespeare chose to end his script on a dark note, Nunn has decided to both start and end the tale on a tragic one.
The play opens with a battle scene from the First World War, in which we see young men killing and being killed. This may seem a strange way to begin a romantic comedy and at first it initially left me pondering what the scene has to do with the characters! Especially since one of the injured men, who remains on the stage as the battle scene ends and the play properly begins, turns out to be none other than Berowne, the play’s leading male character.
Once I got over the initial surprise, I began to think about soldiers dying in battle and how many of them would have had sweethearts waiting for them back at home. If this is what Nunn intended to convey then it does add to the poignancy of the play, as Love’s Labour’s Lost is all about the stirrings of love and how the world’s tragedy intrudes upon it.
The young Ferdinand, King of Navarre and three of his friends have vowed, for three years, to renounce women, wine and good food for a life of austerity and study. However, this is before the princess of France and her three ladies in waiting arrive, and youth’s impetuous vows are soon found floundering upon lovesick melancholy rocks. The four maidens play tricks upon their suitors until they themselves find their hearts reciprocating the young men’s love. Alas, however, love’s consummation is interrupted by the sad news of the death of the French king, the princess’s father.
Simon Day gives a wonderful performance as the King of Navarre, he is both earnest and naïve, pedantic and sensitive. Kate Fleetwood (Roseline) brings a carefree tomfoolery to her character but still captures the longings of love in her glances and gentle teasing. Philip Voss (Boyet) is every bit the classical actor and always managers to fill the stage with his presence. However, the star of the show has to be Joseph Fiennes, he brings depth and richness to the character of Berowne. Whether he is expressing doubt about the wisdom of avowing women, castigating his friends for breaking their vows or fervently defending the virtues of love and charity against puritanical pedanticness, Fiennes never descends into farce.
The stage design by John Gunter is beautiful. What looks like a barren tree in a field is quickly turned into a green forest by the lowering of a few screens with paintings of green foliage on them. It was easy to imagine oneself in a forest, where the green springs of youth turn into a barren winter.
(Production photos by JOHN HAYNES)
Notices from the popular press....
RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Tame play ...lacks the energy to fill the vast Olivier stage." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says "Nunn's last labour ends with a bang." He goes on to say, " [Joseph] Fiennes is excellent: debonair, sophisticated, but wiser, deeper than any Berowne I’ve seen." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Nunn's labour wins". CHARLES SPENCER for DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Ravishing production." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "There is much to enjoy. But what the production cries out for is severe editing so that the verbal fencing is swifter and sharper."
External links to full reviews from newspapers