Shakespeare in Love is one of my favourite films, so I had very high hopes for the stage production at London’s Noël Coward theatre. Thankfully, the play met, and even exceeded, my expectations. It embodies everything that theatre is about.
The play is well-adapted and sticks closely to the film, thanks to Tom Stoppard’s writing. It is also beautifully staged, with scenery working well to incorporate the surrounding theatre and show the audience both sides of the stage within the performance, which is important in a play about theatre. The stage itself acts as the stage in the play, with the rafters built up around it providing the viewing circle for actors and extras who aren’t acting in scenes to stand and spectate, so there is always an audience both on and off the stage.
The cast is excellent. I almost preferred Tom Bateman’s Will Shakespeare to Joseph Fiennes in the big screen version. He really shows his passion for Viola and his artistic temperament. Lucy Briggs-Owen also gave a great performance as the female lead, with her gravelly voice perfect for Viola: ‘None of your twittering larks,’ as Shakespeare describes her. I had seen her earlier this year in Fortune’s Fool at The Old Vic, and I thought she gave suited the role of Viola better than that of Olga Petrovna, although I am not her biggest fan. She often overemphasises, which makes for great dramatic effect in stage, though I personally find it slightly grating.
David Oakes has a brilliant turn as Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare’s friend, but writing rival. He has a bigger role in the play than Rupert Everett did in the film, and I think it’s a brilliant move. Their friendship is really played up and the banter between the two writers is fantastic, as is the balcony scene, which Marlowe has been written into; feeding Will lines to speak to Viola as he tries to woo her with his poetry.
Mr Henslowe is another great character. He professes that the audience wants love, comedy and a bit with a dog. Which is exactly what this play is. The romance is sweeping and there are laughs a-plenty, especially thanks to Mr Henslowe and the dog.
The music is also very well done, with a four-piece band, including the all-important lute, providing most the music, much like wondering minstrels – strolling about the stage and lurking in the rafters to accompany the players at the Rose theatre.
I can honestly say, Shakespeare in Love is one of the best plays I have ever seen at the theatre. If you enjoyed the film,you will love this stage production. It will make you want to fall in love all over again.