Love's labour's lost, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Love's Labour's Lost is both a feast of Shakespearean language and the most symmetrical of formal comedies. Watching Peter Hall's revival at the Rose – its first home-grown production – is like visiting an Elizabethan courtly masque where everyone is on their best behaviour.

The show is not insipid exactly, it's just Hall's approach is sedate. The King and his courtiers line up against the Princess and her companions with the sombre-suited determination of party-poopers. Finbar Lynch's Berowne is a melancholy thinker whose aptitude for speaking in sonnets is more impressive than his susceptibility to what they might actually mean.

The paltriness of the stage picture means that the physicality of the romantic shilly-shallying is deprived of variation and surprise.

The four lords are tracked by the ridiculous Don Armado, a shabby Spanish grandee whom Peter Bowles plays with magnificent hauteur and a self-regarding manner.

Armado's amorous target is the fulsome dairymaid Jaquenetta; with Ella Smith – fresh from Neil LaBute's Fat Pig – you do at last feel a heartbeat of emotional conflict.

Rachel Pickup plays the Princess on the front foot, eagerly accommodating the hedging interventions of Michael Mears's kind-hearted Boyet, while William Chubb lands in a fine old tangle of verbiage as Holofernes. The interlude of the bearded Worthies has been funnier, and the arrival of the messenger Mercade (Paul Bentall) in the shadow of death is not the great transforming moment it should be.

The play has been carefully assembled, and the blandness is almost overpowering.

To 15 November (0871 230 1552)