Sonnet 18, Line 1-2
To be honest, I can’t actually believe it’s taken me this long to see the stage production of Shakespeare in Love, considering my ridiculous obsession with both theatre and the Bard. And I loved the film (who didn’t?!)
Anyway, I finally made it to the Gallery last week to enjoy a romp through Elizabethan stage life and to bore my friend with ‘fun facts’ about how accurate the script actually was, which I’m sure she was also absolutely thrilled by…
But seriously, the great thing about this show, and the film, is how historically accurate it is, without being the slightest bit boring. The stage is filled with constant action, toing and froing from the large cast; it’s interesting that director Declan Donellan has clearly decided never to leave his characters alone on stage. The set is basically like an Elizabethan theatre, with a large open space at the bottom, and three tiers of wooden levelling that the cast can scamper all about, or observe the real action from. The Shakespearean idea of life as a theatre definitely comes across, but no too obviously, which I appreciated. I hate it when a good idea is forced down your throat; subtlety is always better.
Orlando James as Shakespeare himself was very impressive – full of energy and life, likeable and believable – what more can you ask?! I thought Eve Posonby as Viola, the heroine, was equally energetic. In a way, this was great – it’s always nice to see such a strong, spirited female character, yet someone who is also sympathetic and sensitive – but I also found her a little over hearty for my liking at some points, especially when she was playing Viola playing Juliet. Yes, Juliet is madly in teenage love, but at the same time, she’s also a woman who knows her new husband is about to be exiled after killing her beloved cousin. A personal view I know, but I just don’t think she’d be bounding around the stage at that time; Juliet’s quite thoughtful, and it made all of Shakespeare’s compliments to Viola on her ‘natural’ acting style seem confusing. A little too boisterous for my liking anyway.
Apart from that, however, the cast were brilliant. Particular highlights were Edward Franklin as Kit Marlowe, Ryan Donaldson as Ned Alleyn and Suzanne Burden as a haughty but just Queen Elizabeth I. I also loved Paul Brennan as Hugh Fennyman, or rather, a very eager Apothecary, he provided some of the best silly light relief in the play – combined with, of course, the obligatory adorable dog. Gregg Lowe was actually equally endearing as Sam, the ‘boy’ of the company, whose voice unfortunately breaks just before the performance. Talking of voices, the singing and music is absolutely gorgeous – props to countertenor Charlie Highe for some soaring descants, and to Paddy Cuneen as music director.
Overall, this is a lovely show – with elements of great slapstick, and silly humour which anyone will be entertained by, but also sophisticated, witty jokes for the Bard Nerds in the audience. There are countess references to some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines, but you don’t have to pick up on all of these to enjoy the play. It stands alone, a riot of music and action and passion, recreating Elizabethan London and the way they felt about life brilliantly. Some of the acting was a little over the top for my liking, and I found some of the references just a little clunky. I’m not awarding it five stars because I never quite felt moved by it. But really, I can’t think of a reason why someone wouldn’t enjoy this show, so definitely highly recommended.
Shakespeare in Love at Noel Coward Theatre: 4/5 stars