‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players’. These ‘players’ in Shakespeare in Love truly produced something extraordinary and fresh in theatre – making the past relevant and humorous for a modern-day audience. I have never seen the film, unlike, I’m sure, the majority of the audience. Going into the Noel Coward Theatre with open eyes and little expectation allowed me to have a different experience watching the play compared to most audience members.
First impressions and seeing a stage with three floors already made it seem like this was going to be no ordinary West End play. Enter a cast of 28 members – an extraordinary amount of actors for a West End stage, with this amount typically seen in a lavish musical. The spectacular stage design from Nick Ormerod with its slick scene changes and moving pillars, and Neil Austin’s shadowy lighting, makes the production feel so much more cinematic and relatable to the film. It would be a shambles if Ormerod doesn’t pick up the best set design award at the Oliviers later this year.
In the brand new cast for the 2015 run of Shakespeare in Love, stand out performances that should be mentioned are Orlando James as Shakespeare and Ryan Donaldson as Ned Alleyn. Both actors have a fantastic physical energy in their gestures, with an urgency in every direction they take on stage. Both actors also show leadership with their ensemble made up of 28. Donaldson has a gravitas in his projection and volume leading his group of actors through scenes seamlessly, whilst James provokes not only heroism whilst climbing over the tiered stage with ease, but a deep emotional impact of love for Viola (Eve Ponsonby). Whilst the ending may be predictable, seeing our two star-cross’d lovers take their final moments together at the place that brought them together in the final half hour of the production is something I will never forget in theatre.
What makes Shakespeare in Love such an important production right now in the West End is its emphasis on history. We always hear actors talk about how we should be teaching the younger generation of the importance and genius of Shakespeare’s works. I feel Shakespeare in Love is a perfect start for young people to get into Shakespeare, rather than going straight into learning a play of his. The references to lines and characters in Shakespeare plays, such as Twelfth Night with the character of Viola, as well as the historical references to the various London theatres, including the Rose and Curtain, and actors including Burbage and Alleyn, is hidden cleverly amongst the British humour. This makes Shakespeare in Love not only an emotional and comedic experience, but an educational one too.
As an actor myself, seeing Shakespeare in Love, a play about plays, was something special. It is not often we engage with a storyline into how productions are created, let alone one about Shakespeare. This is a play that both thespians and theatre newbies will enjoy, providing an emotional impact in its visuals and simple love story, as well as an education into the history of the greatest playwright of all. To see it or to not see it; that shouldn’t even be a question!
Reviewed by Jack Grey
Shakespeare In Love is playing at the Noel Coward Theatre until 18 April 2015. Click here to book tickets.