16 years after the award-winning film won our hearts in the cinema, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Shakespeare in Love, directed by Declan Donnellan, has hit the West End amidst speculation and anticipation. For can a play really do credit to such a film?
For once, the answer is a resounding yes.
There may not be Joseph Fiennes, Colin Firth or indeed Judi Dench, but it doesn’t matter. In this story of love, adultery and drama, where lowly player Will Shakespeare falls in love with the lovely Viola de Lesseps, each individual takes hold of their character and brings their own personality and interpretation to the role, without losing the integrity and identity of the original.
Tom Bateman is a perfect Will Shakespeare, a handsome, boyish figure with inky fingers and a charming smile. His delivery is exceptional throughout: as he stumbles through his sonnet whilst wooing Viola, agonises over his lot as he falls in love with her all over again as Romeo to her Juliet when he grieves over the loss of Marlowe (the magnificent David Oakes).
Lucy Briggs-Owen (Viola) brings all of the feistiness of her character to life with an innocent wit as she puts down Wessex (Alistair Petrie, who is the very essence of a chauvinistic nobleman), but terror as she falls in love with a ‘humble player’ whilst disguised as Thomas Kent.
In fact the cast is possibly the strongest West End cast at present, with particularly excellent performances from David Ganly (Burbage), Doug Rao (Ned Alleyn) and Paul Chahidi (Henslowe). And of course the dog (who doesn’t love a play with a dog in it?!)
Unlike many adaptations, the script is quite different from the original film, but its edits are clever, with sly nods to the works of the bard himself throughout, e.g. “This is a dagger you see before you!”. The film, although a romantic comedy, is not really funny, yet with these clever edits and additions, the play is – and it works!
The staging is excellent with a beautiful set that is the epitome of ‘all the world’s a stage’ as it could be ‘this wooden O’, with several layers and surprises, dotted with minstrels that bring romance and authenticity to the entire performance. The costumes (supervised by Bushy Westfallen) are accurate and actually more believable than the film as most of the cast are just simple players.
There aren’t many shows that leave you stunned by the exceptional quality and brilliance of everything, but Shakespeare in Love is utter perfection – a flawless production!
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Shakespeare in Love is playing at the Noël Coward Theatre until 25 October 2014. Click here for tickets.