Arts Reviews

Shakespeare in Love @ Theatre Royal

Shakespeare in Love is well-known as the 1998 histori-comedy that took the Academy Awards by storm, winning seven awards including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. And now, it seems to have found its way home in being transformed into a witty, timeless and innovative play.

“For fans of the film, this play does not disappoint”

The plot follows a penniless playwright by the name of Will Shakespeare (‘never heard of him’, as one character remarks), who we initially see struggling to write that immortal verse beginning ‘shall I compare thee to a winter’s morning’. Unfortunately, it all goes downhill from there, as his upcoming play Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter has been sold to two playing companies and still hasn’t been written yet. It is only falling in love with the beautiful Viola de Lesseps and the appearance of Thomas Kent in his acting company (actually the same person) which ignites his genius, and enables the creation of the play we all know and love, Romeo and Juliet. Or Mercutio, depending on who you talk to.

“I enjoyed the play’s spin on the film, which made Christopher Marlowe and Will’s friendship stronger”

Pierro Niel-Mee plays a handsome and convincing Will, whilst Imogen Daines embodies his spirited and vibrant Viola. The rest of the ensemble create the cast of Shakespeare’s London perfectly, with Phillip Henslowe (Ian Hughes), Richard Burbage (Edward Harrison) and Ned Alleyn (Rowan Polonski) all making humorous appearances. As a bit of a Marlowe fan (I’m an English student – what can I say), I enjoyed the play’s fresh take on making Christopher Marlowe and Will’s friendship stronger, with Kit assisting in the wooing of Viola on her balcony, and giving Will some of his finest ideas. Edmund Kingsley’s Kit was the perfect foil to Niel-Mee’s Will, and this aspect of their relationship made Kit’s death, and Will’s stricken reaction all the more convincing.

The staging of Shakespeare in Love was unique and innovative, with a revolving wooden frame representing Shakespeare’s ‘wooden O’, tavern, the de Lesseps’s house and Queen Elizabeth’s court successfully. Both backstage and onstage were portrayed as the audience were treated to seeing the performance of Romeo and Juliet onstage, and the drama and woes taking place behind the scenes (such as Sam’s balls dropping and his voice breaking – disaster).

“the audience felt especially involved in the play’s action”

Music was played live onstage throughout, thanks to the talents of Toby Webster and Rosalind Steele, and the whole cast’s traditional-style songs were fitting and beautiful to watch. Simple effects, such as representing rowing by dipping hands into a bucket of water to make a splashing sound enthralled the audience, and bringing up the lights to find Will and later Queen Elizabeth in the auditorium amongst us onlookers, ensured the audience felt especially involved in the play’s action.

Bill Ward’s Lord Wessex was darker than Colin Firth’s film portrayal of the role, climbing into bed with Viola and threatening her Nurse with a knife. This greater opposition between Will and Wessex made the final outcome even more devastating, and left the audience (me) with a little tear in their (my) eye.

For fans of the film, this play does not disappoint. If you’ve never seen the film, hate Shakespeare and think it is outdated, you’ll still love this play. It’s also refreshing that the music within the script has been done tastefully and not turned the production into a musical extravaganza, which in keeping the feel of the film creates a moving and thoroughly enjoyable production – finished with a jig, of course a la The Globe.


Amy Wilcockson

Featured image courtesy of Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall Official Facebook Page.

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