The film Shakespeare in Love first came into our lives way back in 1998 and was a resounding success. It even won Judi Dench an Oscar for her role as Queen Elizabeth I, even though she is in the film for just a few minutes. Starring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow it remains one of my favourite films and I could not for the life of me see how a stage adaptation would work. But work it does.
Adapted by Lee Hall and directed by Declan Donnellan, Shakespeare in Love manages to capture the hearts of audiences again and again. Watching it for the second time I was worried that the magic would be lost, but I came out blinking back tears as I fell in love with it all over again.
Poor Will Shakespeare (the charismatic Tom Bateman) has lost his gift and his words have run dry. Only when he meets and falls in love with Viola de Lesseps does he manage to find his creativity and write his masterpiece, Romeo and Juliet, using their secret love as the background of the story.
But Viola (Lucy Briggs-Owen) has her own problems as she just wants to be an actor but is facing a life of misery in Virginia after her father sells her in marriage to Lord Wessex (Alistair Petrie). She disguises herself as a boy and auditions for Shakespeare, winning the part of Romeo and the heart of the author.
What is fantastic about this adaptation is that you never compare it to the film. There are similarities in performance, but each actor breathes new life into the characters and their interpretations work wonderfully well.
Lucy Briggs-Owen is a delight as Viola – giggly and girly, but with a sense of feistiness. When disguised as Thomas Kent her voice drops slightly and she speaks Shakespeare’s verse with an unusual quality. Tom Bateman is exceptional, his boyish good looks and charm making us all fall in love with him as he stumbles through his sonnet and struggles with his commitments.
The entire cast is strong, with outstanding performances from David Oakes (Marlowe), Doug Rao (Ned Alleyn) and Paul Chahidi (Henslowe). And of course a special mention to Barney, the adorable Labradoodle who steals the show!
The script is witty and slightly different from the film to allow subtle (albeit hammy) references to the wonderful word of the Bard himself, including “This is a dagger you see before you” and “Out damned Spot”. In fact the stage show is a lot funnier than the film and the audience were having a good giggle.
The stage itself is exquisite, and in fact all the world of Shakespeare in Love is a stage, with several tiers, reminisce of Juliet’s balcony, or perhaps “this wooden O”? Minstrels lurk in every corner and really add to the romance and authenticity of the performance. Costumes (supervised by Bushy Westfallen) are impeccable and very accurate, reflecting (possibly better than the film) the difference between humble players and the nobility.
There are a few shows that I love, and even fewer that manage to bring a tear to my eye, but Shakespeare in Love remains my favourite show in London and I honestly can’t fault it. The quality of script, staging and acting is exceptional – it’s an incredible production.
Review by Michaela Clement-Hayes
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
Noel Coward Theatre
Running Time: 2 hours 40 minutes
Age Restrictions: Shakespeare In Love is recommended for children over the age of 12. The production contains a brief glimpse of nudity.
Show Opened: 2nd July 2014
Booking Until: 27th June 2015
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday and Saturday 2.30pm
The above review during w/c 5th January 2015 – New cast for Shakespeare In Love from Monday 12th January 2015
Tuesday 13th January 2015