It is not often that you find a stage adaptation better than the Oscar-winning film which preceded it but this is indeed the case with Declan Donnellan’s triumphant production of Shakespeare in Love (Noel Coward Theatre)
Young Shakespeare is suffering from a bad case of writer’s block as he attempts to write Romeo and Juliet whose previous working title was Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. His creative impasse is alleviated, however, when he finds inspiration from high-born wannabe actress Viola De Lesseps, daughter of a wealthy merchant, who is forced to disguise herself as a boy to get in his own acting company, since at that time it was deemed unseemly for women to appear on stage. Needless to say when her secret is uncovered, the great playwright falls in love with the young actress who proves so adept at role playing in every sense of the word.
For its arrival on stage, Lee (Billy Elliot) Hall has adapted a fresh the witty script written by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman for the 1998 film, and the play has less the sense of a spectacle and more of a sense of realism while providing a perfect marriage of character and plot. Nick Ormerod’s stunning set – a handsome, galleried Elizabethan theatre reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Globe – does much to enhance the atmosphere of the piece.
But it is the performances that really bring this joyous late 16th century rom-com so vividly to life. Tom Bateman makes a truly dashing Shakespeare, while Lucy Briggs-Owen is a sexy, constant delight, whether dressed as boy or girl, as Viola. Strong support comes from Paul Chahidi as theatre owner Henslowe, desperately trying to keep his show on the road, David Ganly as his rival Burbage, Ferdy Roberts as ruthless moneyman Fennyman, Anna Carteret as a truly regal Queen Elizabeth and David Oakes particularly engaging, as a suave Marlowe, whose violent death makes Shakespeare suffer agonies of guilt. There is also a scene stealing performance from an Irish wolfhound called Spot who has a significant part to play in the proceedings.
I should also add that Paddy Cunneen’s Renaissance style music is perfectly intertwined into the piece and can certainly be said to provide the food of love.
A hugely enjoyable evening in the theatre, then, that will please both young and old alike!
Booking to October 25
Box office: 0844 482 5141Last modified: April 7, 2021