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Love's Labour's Lost Press Night Reviews

Date: 8th October 2008 | Venue: Courtyard Theatre |

Author: Paul Taylor | The Independent

Jonathan Miller notoriously dismissed David Tennant as "the man from Doctor Who" and virtually accused the RSC of selling out to fame when they hired him to play Hamlet.

Miller was left looking foolish on several counts. Tennant's triumphant performance was (and still is) a reminder that this Dr Who is a classically trained actor with two previous seasons in Stratford under his belt. It also exposed the snobbery of supposing that fans of Doctor Who aren't the sort who could ever become fans of Shakespeare.

That fallacy seems even dafter in the light of this latest Tennant-related project – a high-spirited, thoughtful production of Love's Labour's Lost directed with fizz and finesse by Greg Doran. This historically earlier play is a delight, but linguistically it is one of the trickiest of the Bard's comic works.

Wonderfully funny at the fleet-footed wit, the physical clowning and the moment's of real intellectual depth, Tennant portrays Berowne, one of the three young lords who, with the King, take an oath that they will spend three years in study, while foreswearing the company of the opposite sex. Such high-minded abstinence is, of course, entirely against the spirit of comedy, and comeuppance arrives in the shape of the French princess and her ladies.

There's been a fashion lately of updating the piece in a way that betrays fundamental distrust of it – the nadir being a recent version that relocated it in a corporate City bank (making nonsense of the vows and just about everything else). Doran pays it the compliment of presenting it in the Elizabethan period on a mirrored set dominated by a huge tree festooned with dangling, leaf-coloured glass.

Berowne is both the least self-deceived of the lords and the sharpest. Tennant uses his native Scots accent, and there's a natural healthy scepticism in its lilt that suits the role. The character's comparative non-conformity is also signalled here by the fact that his pewter-blue costume is in vivid contrast to the prevailing white-and-gold.

The production is a banquet of choice comic acting. Ricky Champ brings a touch of Norman Wisdom to that least wise of clowns, Costard, while Joe Dixon is hilarious as the English-mangling Spanish braggart Don Armado ("Men of piss, well encountered").

Music is also beautifully used. In the scene where each lord, deludedly believing himself to be unobserved, confesses his love to the audience, the foursome end up harmonising in song. And the production segues with terrific poise from the farce of the Nine Worthies pageant to the shock of death that lays its chill on the fifth act.

It's wonderful to think that, by virtue of his role in the Tardis, Tennant is able to square the circle for the RSC. Without diluting the expertise and the sense of seasoned experience a jot, he is awakening newcomers to the wonders of Shakespeare at his most exuberant.

Date: 8th October 2008 | Venue: Courtyard Theatre |

Author: Michael Billington | The Guardian
Lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place. Having enjoyed a deserved triumph with Hamlet, Gregory Doran and many of the same David Tennant-led RSC team turn their attention to this enchanting early comedy. But, while it's a perfectly decent show, it has the rather ostentatious charm of a sweetly dimpled child determined to show us how pretty it is.

Its best feature is Tennant's sparky Berowne; and he constantly reminds us of the affinities between Hamlet and the king of Navarre's resident critic. Just as Hamlet sees through the masked pretences of Elsinore, so Berowne instantly spies the absurdity of the vow made by the youthful king and his companions to study for three years and forswear female society.

Staring aghast at the proposals, Tennant uses his Scottish accent to express a pragmatic scepticism. And, when Berowne himself falls in love with the visiting Rosaline, Tennant frequently hides his embarrassment behind a veil of satiric irony. Indeed, when Rosaline describes Berowne as "a man replete with mocks", she could almost be describing the prince of Denmark.

But Tennant, more than any other actor in this production, shows a capacity to handle Shakespeare's language with sensitivity. At times he falls too easily into the current Stratford habit of joshing the audience and playing off front-row spectators.

But you could hear a pin drop during Berowne's great paean to passion and the power of love over academic study. When Tennant tells us that "Love's feeling is more soft and sensible than are the tender horns of cockled snails", it is with the breathless urgency of a man who sees the image he is describing. And when, at the last, Berowne is enjoined by his lover to spend a year visiting the speechless sick, Tennant displays real shock at the idea one can "move wild laughter in the throat of death". It is a performance that confirms Tennant's Shakespearean status.

I wish I admired the rest of Doran's production as much. But, considering that Shakespeare's play rejoices in the very verbal virtuosity it is satirising, the production often seems indifferent to language. It gussies up the play with a plethora of effects including interpolated rap songs, a dancing bear and even, at the climax, a puppet owl on a bendy pole. As the comic Spaniard, Don Armado, Joe Dixon is also encouraged to turn the character's verbal infelicities into a string of double entendres.

Undoubtedly the production, played in courtly period costume, looks handsome and there are some good supporting performances. Oliver Ford Davies turns the pedant Holofernes into a groping, rubicund old dominie and at point bursts with indignation as he cries: "I smell false Latin." Nina Sosanya plays Rosaline as a sharp-witted, embryonic Beatrice and Mariah Gale invests the French Princess with an imposing, high-chinned dignity. And nothing can impair the magic of the play's conclusion when death, in the shape of the message-bearing Marcade, suddenly intrudes on a scene of festive riot.

It is one of Shakespeare's great comedies and the audience seemed happy enough. But I don't think it's mere nostalgia that makes me think back to the elegiac beauty of John Barton's production, which put the language at the centre of the play, whereas here it often seems to be a problem to be camouflaged, disguised or visually decorated.

Date: 8th October 2008 | Venue: Courtyard Theatre |

Author: Christopher Gray | The Oxford Times

Having introduced an unexpected, if welcome, element of comedy into his performance as Hamlet, David Tennant now reverses the process in his exceptionally hard-working season at Stratford by pointing up the darker, more contemplative, side to one of Shakespeare's most celebrated comic creations. That his portrayal of the garrulous Berowne in Love's Labour's Lost is more serious than is usually the case can be instantly inferred from his use of his native Scottish accent. Scottish means serious — just think of our Chancellor and a Prime Minister who but for a couple of missing 'e's . . .

Happily, Scottish also means easy on the ear, as is heard in the lilting beauty of many of the speeches delivered by Tennant with impeccable judgment, not least over the delightfully pointed facial expressions and gestures that accompany some of them. The best, most heartfelt, delivery comes in Berowne's famous defence of a love that he and his three pals have vowed to forswear for three years — until a party of beautiful women turn up at the Court of Navarre and they swiftly change their minds: "And when Love speaks the voice of all the gods/Make heaven drowsy with the harmony."

Love's Labour's Lost is famously Shakespeare's filthiest, if not funniest, comedy, and one not blessed with much in the way of a plot (Will had no one to pinch it from). Director Gregory Doran strikes an appropriately lubricious tone early on when the delicious dairymaid Jaquenetta (Riann Steele) is seen rhythmically pumping the plunging rod of her butter churn to the mounting arousal of her two admirers. You can almost see the steam coming from the ears of the preposterous, preening Spaniard Armado (a superb Joe Dixon) and the chirpy clown, Costard (Ricky Champ).

The plot shortage is partly compensated for by our being given so much to look at. This includes the huge tree, streams of multi-coloured plastic 'leaves' pendant, that dominates designer Francis O'Connor's set, many gorgeous period costumes — especially those worn by the visiting Princess of France (Mariah Gale) and her retinue of lovely attendants — and vigorous displays of stick dancing.

To beguile the ear, meanwhile, is Paul Englishby's plangent music and — most important of all — the great torrents of words that pour in unimaginable richness from so many of the characters. Occasionally, one feels at one with Constable Dull (Ewen Cummins), puffing contentedly on his pipe as these fireworks explode around him. "Thou hast spoken no word all this while," says the pedant schoolmaster Holofernes (Oliver Ford Davies), to which the officer replies: "Nor understood none neither, sir."

Date: 8th October 2008 | Venue: Courtyard Theatre |

Author: Benedict Nightingale | The Times

We already have one answer to the David Tennant conundrum. Yes, a time lord with eyes like big, bulging marbles can not only cope with Hamlet the perplexing play, but convince you that he’s emerged from the Tardis as Hamlet the noble Danish prince. However, the role he takes in Love’s Labour’s Lost presents a totally different challenge. At least until an ending that warns of deeper, darker work to come, the comedy shimmers, sparkles, frolics like a spring lamb — and demands that Tennant’s Berowne radiates unstoppable wit and humour.

Tennant comes close to doing that, too. As the brightest of the four lordlings persuaded by the King of Navarre to vow to renounce women for books, he doesn’t exactly sparkle or frolic.

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Nor is his Scots-accented Berowne quite the madcap joker, the “man replete with mocks” whose prime appeal is to “shallow laughing fools”: which is how he’s described by Nina Sosanya’s enchanting young Rosaline, whom he hopes to marry. But he’s quick-witted, wry, waggish and mischievous enough to exchange a wink with a woman in the audience when the text asks him to compare her sex with unreliable timepieces.

The plot is sweet and light, as fits what was probably Shakespeare’s first romantic comedy. The four votaries’ promise of chastity is tested when Mariah Gale’s Princess of France arrives with three attendant ladies, each of whom turns out to have a soft spot for her male counterpart. Love games ensue, including the episode in which the men amusingly, if preposterously, pass themselves off as heavily bearded Muscovites. But the funniest scene in Gregory Doran’s production is the one that proved that the young Shakespeare was already a comic maestro. Each gallant successively discovers the love poem another has penned, ending with Tennant’s Berowne, who has been solemnly reproaching the King for breaking his oath, ripping and eating the evidence of his own treachery.

There are nice supporting performances. Joe Dixon is Don Armado, the parody Spaniard grandee who combines fake stateliness with a verbal delivery that gives ordinary English syllables embarrassing double meanings. And Oliver Ford Davies, playing the schoolmaster Holofernes, is every inch the earnest pedant, in love with long, Latinate words, but almost as besotted with the ladies, whose bottoms he’s apt to fondle and whose bosoms he ogles as he sonorously quotes Ovid on “odiferous flowers”. Courtly love and/or good-natured lust are everywhere in a revival that, thanks to Katrina Lindsay’s gold-and-white Elizabethan costumes, always looks gorgeous.

As for Tennant, he might be a more amused version of the early Benedick in Much Ado when Sosanya’s Rosaline directs insults at him, and a more romantic version of the late Benedick when he delivers a genuinely heartfelt apologia for marriage. The most serious moment comes at the close, when a black-clad messenger arrives to break up what’s now almost a playground rumpus with news of the French king’s death. The fun is over.

Everyone remembers that marriage is “a world-without-end bargain”. And Tennant’s Berowne is ordered to spend a probationary year bringing his trademark good humour to hospitals for the terminally ill. It’s a test that, like others in this enjoyable production, he’ll surely pass.

Date: 8th October 2008 | Venue: Courtyard Theatre |

Author: Dianne Parks | The Birmingham Mail

AFTER the success of David Tennant’s Hamlet, audiences now have the chance to see the Dr Who star in another guise in this Shakespeare comedy about love and broken promises.

This time Tennant takes on the sardonic Berowne, one of a group of four friends who agree to have no contact with women for three years – until they all fall in love.

The part is ideal for Tennant. His dry humour offers a commentary throughout.

This production in The Courtyard Theatre sees Tennant offered more than ample support by a repertory company who also joined him in Hamlet. All of his fellow conspirators, played by Edward Bennett, Tom Davey and Sam Alexander, are foolish but so human while Birmingham’s Joe Dixon is excellent as the lovesick Spanish fop Armado.

The RSC production is simple but stylish, with plenty of jokes levelled well below the waist and double entendres landing fast and furious. All in all this show is just good plain fun with Tennant proving that his sell-out run at Stratford-upon-Avon has been justified. Until November 15.

Date: 8th October 2008 | Venue: Courtyard Theatre |

Author: Holly Whitmill| The Leamington Spa Courier
'I love you'. Three small words, but why are they so hard to say?
Shakespeare knew the reason - love loves to make fools of us all and depicted well makes for excellent, ribald viewing.

A king and his three courtiers have forsworn women and life's pleasures to spend three years in study.

But guess what happens next: a princess and her ladies-in-waiting come calling and their plans are thrown into disarray.

Not much of a plot, but with each of director Michael Boyd's sketch-like scenes so perfectly formed and strung together like the twinkling glass leaves of the stage's pretty tree, the audience was hooked.

It is easy to see why the play was supposedly a hit with witty Elizabeth I, and perhaps she, like many of the women watching, would have enjoyed David Tennant's charming portrayal of a worldly rake made lovesick - full of comic timing, cheeky expressions and a smattering of easy audience interaction.

But someone who provoked guffaws from all and an applause after each stage-stealing performance was Joe Dixon as the hapless, sentimental, broken-English speaking Don Adriano de Armado - his name says it all.

As the plot untangles and love-sick hearts beat faster, the play descends into almost pantomime-like pageantry with dancing Russians, singing seasons and even a dancing bear taking the stage.

But it is a recipe that delights and amuses and makes the ending all the more magical.

There are some plays that are seen and forgotten, but this sensual feast of japery, music, word play and superb acting is not one of them. Holly Whitmill

Verdict: Witty, wonderful drama.

Date: 8th October 2008 | Venue: Courtyard Theatre |

Author: n/a | BBC News Online

Doctor Who star David Tennant has been praised for his performance in a new production of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost in Stratford-upon-Avon.

According to Daily Express critic Neil Norman, the Scottish actor "is at home on the stage in a great RSC company as he is at the controls of the Tardis".

The Guardian's Michael Billington said his comedic role as Berowne "confirms Tennant's Shakespearean status."

The production continues in tandem with Tennant's sold-out staging of Hamlet.

Both productions play in repertoire at the Royal Shakespeare's Company's Courtyard Theatre until 15 November.

Hamlet, in which Tennant plays the title role, will transfer in the following month to London's Novello Theatre.

In Love's Labour's Lost, Tennant - using his native Scottish accent - plays one of four lords who live to regret taking a vow of sexual abstinence.

The play was last staged by the RSC in 1993 and was filmed by Kenneth Branagh in 2000.

The production, directed by Gregory Doran, shares a number of actors with Hamlet, among them Oliver Ford-Davies and Mariah Gale.

According to BBC arts correspondent Razia Iqbal, Tennant began rehearsals for Love's Labour's Lost "almost immediately" after Hamlet opened in August.

"The RSC may have another hit on their hands, which is surprising given the play is Shakespeare's most forgettable early comedy," she said.