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This Shakespeare comedy has been updated in this production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and is set in 1914, which allows the show to pay respects to the hundred year anniversary of World War I.  The story revolves around the King of Navarre (Sam Alexander) and his three companions Berowne, Longaville and Dumaine (respectively, Edward Bennett, William Belchambers and Tunji Kasim), who all agree to swear off the company of women for three years, in order to concentrate on study and fasting.  However, their plans go awry upon the arrival of the Princess of France (Leah Whittaker) and her three companions, Rosaline, Maria and Katherine (respectively Michelle Terry, Frances McNamee and Flora Spencer-Longhurst).  A battle of the sexes ensues, with the play eventually ending in a poignant scene, which gives cause for reflection.  There is also a subplot featuring the visiting Don Armado (John Hodgkinson), a Spanish visitor, who falls for a local lady named Jaquenetta (Emma Manton).

I really loved this production.  Apart from the fitting and respectful ending (where – spoiler alert – the Princess is informed that her father has died, and she and her ladies in waiting inform their suitors that they must wait a year before their courtships can continue, and which ends up with the four men appearing in World War I uniforms, about to go off and fight in the war), there was so much humour and verbal sparring, with several laugh-out-loud scenes that had the audience in fits of giggles.  The King and his friends were so well portrayed, and the Princess and her companions perfectly matched to them.  (I love how Shakespeare wrote so many strong and intelligent female characters).

The stage was beautifully and cleverly designed and the costumes were gorgeous (I had serious gown envy during the final part of the play!)

Love’s Labour’s Lost is presented as one part of a diptych, together with Much Ado About Nothing (retitled here as Love’s Labour’s Won, which was the name of a lost Shakespeare play – possibly Much Ado).  I have tickets to see Love’s Labour’s Won next year, and I am really looking forward to seeing it.  (In that play, the four main male characters are returning from World War I.)  Edward Bennett plays Benedick, opposite Michelle Terry’s Beatrice, and having seen the chemistry between them in this production, it promises to be a great show.

Overall, an excellent evening of comedy, with excellent acting and staging throughout.  Thoroughly recommended.

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

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Last time I saw Jonathan Slinger at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, he was playing Malvolio in the comedy Twelfth Night – and he very nearly stole the show.  Here, he takes on an entirely different role – that of Hamlet, the tortured, grieving young Prince of Denmark, who seeks to avenge the death of his father, who Hamlet is convinced was killed by Claude, the brother of Hamlet’s father.  Claude is now married to Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, and is also King of Denmark.

This particular performance seems to have divided the critics and the audience; I fall firmly on the side of ‘loved it’.  The play was enthralling throughout, and the whole cast were excellent.  Slinger was outstanding – his Hamlet teetered on the thin line between sanity and madness; his grief and fury at the loss of his father, and the subsequent rapid remarriage of his mother were all too believable.  He also injected some humour into some of his exchanges and mannerisms.  The whole cast was actually wonderful – as well as Slinger, I loved Pippa Nixon as Ophelia, who loved Hamlet but was tragically caught up in his extreme emotions, and who eventually suffered a breakdown with terrible consequences.  Alex Waldmann was perfect, and very endearing as Horatio, Hamlet’s kind (and rational) friend, and Robin Soans provided some great comedy as Polonius.

For this production, the play was set in the 1960s, with one character wearing a CND symbol on his coat, and Hamlet sharing a spliff with his old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  The stage was made to look like a gymnasium, complete with the necessary fencing equipment needed for the final scenes.

My favourite scenes were the famous ‘To Be or Not to Be’ soliloquy, and the final devastating scenes.  After the tense build-up, the showdown needed to be dramatic and shocking – and it was.

All in all, a wonderful production, and I recommend it whole-heartedly to fans of the play, and fans of good drama.

(To find out more about this production, or about the Royal Shakespeare Company, please click here.)

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Click here for my review of the 2000 film adaptation of Hamlet.

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I love the theatre, but unfortunately do not get to go as often as I would like.  Ah, well the way I choose to look at it is that if I can’t go very often, then when I do go, it’s a real treat.

This performance of The Taming of the Shrew, which I saw at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, on 18th February 2012, was indeed a real treat!

The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays, and is a comedy, often criticised for its mysogynistic theme.  In the story, Bianca, a young lady who lives in Verona, has a number of suitors chasing her, but her father has said that she cannot get married until her older sister Katherina, ges married.  The only trouble is that Katherina hates men – and most of them hate her too!  When swaggering, arrogant Petruchio comes along however, he determines to make Katherina (or Kate as he calls her) his bride, and to tame her.  It won’t be an easy task – in this production, Kate drinks, vomits, is violent towards men, and even pees on the stage.  She balances these aspects of her character however, with flashes of vulnerability and tenderness, and I was actually stunned by Lisa Dillon’s performance.  No less brilliant was David Caves as Petruchio, who stalks around the stage as if he owns it, and has magnificent stage presence.  The supporting cast were all excellent as well, with a special mention for Nick Holder, as Christopher Sly, the drunken tinker whose story frames the whole play (and whose part is often cut from other productions).  Holder was hilarious and made an unessential part of the play, a vital element of this production.

There is a subplot which features the various young men who hope to marry Bianca, and which incorpoates a very funny case of mistaken identity.  This is played for charm and laughs, and it absolutely works.

The staging was very imaginiative – the whole stage was a huge bed, which was incorporated into certain parts of the story, and the various opening doors/windows at the back of the stage were also used to great effect.  The production was done in modern clothes, which I think actually enhanced my enjoyment of the show.  Despite it’s outdated themes, there was an air of modernity to the whole production.

It would be impossible to completely ignore the cruel and unusual ways in which Petruchio ‘tames his shrew’.  For example, he refuses to allow her to eat, and causes her to agree with him when he says that day is night.  These parts might make one squirm.  But the sting is taken out of the tail (tale?) by emphasising the aspect of two people coming together and finding love despite their differences (and indeed their similarities).

This production made me laugh out loud on numerous occasions; it was clear that the whole audience enjoyed it immensely.  With strong leads, and a uniformly excellent cast, people with misgivings about the theme of the play, can go to see this show without fear.  The ending – where Kate shows how she has been tamed – is handled delicately and wonderfully.  In short – this show was a joy from start to finish.

(For more information about this production, or about the Royal Shakespeare Company, please click here.)

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Click here for my review of the 1967 film adaptation.

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