Written by Lee Hall as a theatre adaptation of the screenplay by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman, the tour of Shakespeare In Love reaches its second venue at Nottingham Theatre Royal running from Tue 16 – Sat 20 October 2018.
This exuberant play had a triumphant West End run in 2014/15 and was hailed for its wit, humour, and for being a beautiful homage to love, art and theatre itself.
The plot goes thus: Young Will Shakespeare (Pierro Niel-Mee) has writer’s block… the deadline for his new play – a comedy called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter – is fast approaching, he’s struggling to finish the first line of a sonnet and he’s in dire need of inspiration. Then he meets the beguiling Viola de Lesseps (Imogen Daines) , the beautiful -would be actor – daughter of a wealthy merchant. Viola is prepared to do anything – including risking the frosty disapproval of Queen Elizabeth I ( Geraldine Alexander) – to fulfil her illicit dream of performing on the London stage and pursuing a passionate affair with the greatest playwright of the age.
Given some masterly direction by Philip Breen this play is a perfect evening at the theatre and Max Jones’ superbly revolving Shakespearian Playhouse set is the perfect setting to place this romantic comedy/drama. Composer Paddy Cunneen’s lyrical Elizabethan music compliments the action and the sung elements well.
It would perhaps be nice to be in the enviable position of never having seen the film and to experience this staged Shakespeare In Love story completely afresh. The clever wit that often references lines from Shakespeare’s plays outside of the key story of Romeo and Juliet runs throughout. And if music be the food of love (no idea where that came from) this music filled piece of theatre is a feast and a half. Much of the instrumentation is played by the actors themselves. Not whilst eating though.
The playful rivalry between Kit Marlowe (Edmund Kingsley) and William Shakespeare (Pierro Niel-Mee) is amusingly done with Marlowe allegedly drip feeding Shakespeare his text giving us the assumption that Shakespeare was helped by another playwright to make his plays. As if. Also the love story between Shakespeare and Viola de Lesseps (Imogen Daines) is beautifully acted with comic stokes and a real tenderness between the characters.
The large cast work extremely hard to create the story and do it seamlessly. Whilst all are excellent there are a few stand out performances depicting the often larger than life theatrical characters. Geraldine Alexander is superb as Queen Elizabeth I and Nurse.
Rob Edwards gives us a very likable nervous wreck in Fennyman and Edward Harrison demonstrates plenty of bombast and verbal outrage as actor/theatre owner, Richard Burbage. Jazmine Wilkinson is devilishly good as the young John Webster – future playwright of plays full of blood and gore. Bill Ward’s Lord Wessex is one of the straighter roles and Ward gives it plenty of hidden power and menace. Rowan Polonski’s Ned Alleyn is a show stopping performance as one of Shakespeare’s grander actors.
Shakespeare In Love is produced by Eleanor Lloyd Productions and Theatre Royal Bath Productions by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Group and Sonia Friedman Productions.
Verily tis highly recommended.
Reviewer: Phil Lowe
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Phil Lowe is a member of UK Theatre