Amy Moore speaks to Orlando James, who plays William Shakespeare in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE at the Noel Coward Theatre
Shakespeare in Love commenced with a new cast on January 12, 2015.
Performed at the Noel Coward Theatre, the world premiere production of Shakespeare in Love has one of the largest West End casts to date.
Orlando James replaced Tom Bateman as William Shakespeare, with Eve Ponsonby replacing Lucy Briggs-Owen as the endearing Viola De Lesseps.
Orlando recently performed opposite Eve in Cheek by Jowl’s ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore at the Barbican Theatre and during its international tour. Additional theatre credits include The Madness of George III, Cheek by Jowl’s Macbeth, Curious at Riverside Studios, Country Feedback and 24 Hour Plays at the Old Vic.
What was it like to take over from the original cast?
We were rehearsing in the theatre from day one.
It’s an interesting thing to be taking over a part and rehearsing the same time it’s happening.
The original cast are lovely and were very happy to pass the baton on. Lots of them have come back to see the show since it opened. They’ve been really supportive.
Obviously the show is going to be different, because you are different people and different casts. The chemistry is different between people, and people’s interpretation of their characters is different.
The director has really given us free rein to re-imagine the characters. It’s the same show, but different.
What have you brought to the lead role of William Shakespeare?
Well, I’m blonde, which is quite a big difference. I would also say that mine and Eve Ponsonby’s relationship is younger. There’s a certain vulnerability, simply by the very nature of our personalities. The challenge is to make the relationships true.
There’s a lot in Shakespeare in Love that is really easy to latch onto and really easy to get involved in.
It’s very rewarding to express yourself through the script, just the love of theatre and the importance of theatre in society and culture.
It’s amazing to be in a show that really celebrates the history of our profession, and does it with such joy. There’s dancing and singing, it’s romantic, there’s fighting, and essentially everything you could hope for in a Shakespeare romp.
How familiar are you with the work of William Shakespeare?
Most of the work I’ve done on stage has been classical, and a large majority has been Shakespeare. I think it’s a very important body of work.
Everybody loves Shakespeare, don’t they?
Do you prefer old-fashioned theatre to the more modern productions?
I like a mixture. I’ve done Shakespeare productions in full Elizabethan garg, but also performed with no props, where everyone is wearing black and there’s no set, there’s just a bare stage. We’re simply telling a story, which I think works equally as well.
Shakespeare in Love is performed in early modern English; did you find it challenging to learn the lines?
There’s a certain thing about verse, because of the rhyming patterns. There’s such a strong form to the way in which Shakespeare was writing.
It somehow stays in your mind and in your body a lot easier than colloquial, modern English.
What attracted you to the role of William Shakespeare?
The film was incredible, and it’s a story that can only get better by putting it on the stage. Shakespeare in Love is about theatre, it’s about connecting with an audience, it’s about love, it’s about growing up, and it’s about hardship and sacrifice.
It’s great to have the opportunity to explore those things on such a great stage in such a beautiful theatre. People who haven’t seen the film will get so much out of it.
For people who have seen the film, Shakespeare in Love is a beautiful homage.
How does the film compare to the production of Shakespeare in Love?
There have been quite a few amendments to the script, especially with the character of Christopher Marlowe, who is really Shakespeare’s crutch during this time.
Lee Hall has augmented Marlowe’s character, so their relationship has been allowed to blossom. That’s really important, because it’s one of the things that spurs Shakespeare to carry on writing and be closer to Viola.
The relationship between Marlowe and Shakespeare is a constant thing in the play version of Shakespeare in Love.
How did you prepare for the role of William Shakespeare?
Bizarrely, I’d seen the film way before I knew it was a possibility for me.
I know the director, Declan Donnellan. I’ve worked with him a few times and we were working on a project when the production of Shakespeare in Love came about.
Who knew that six months down the line, I’d be performing in it?
I read a great book called Will In The World by Stephen Greenblatt, and it’s about how Shakespeare became Shakespeare. Books like that give you an inkling, but at the end of the day, you forget about the research and you just go from the script.
Shakespeare in Love consists of quite a large cast, including a dog.
Barney is the star of the show. He has his own dressing room, and we were told when we first arrived not to interact with Barney on stage. You can’t look him in the eye or stroke him backstage, because he’ll get confused.
We have an understudy dog called Amber who is adorable, but she’s about a third of the size of Barney.
Are you surprised that Shakespeare in Love has become so successful?
I think Shakespeare in Love has got something that will always be appealing to people. It has a much wider appeal as it’s about someone who is part of everyone’s history. Everyone knows about William Shakespeare, in all countries of the world.
I think audiences will keep on coming and keep on enjoying it. Shakespeare in Love is a riotous, funny, touching and romantic love story about theatre.
Discounted rates for groups of 8+ are available for Monday- Friday performances. Best available seats in Stalls & Royal Circle are reduced to £29.50, with Grand Circle seats reduced to £19.50. To book call 0844 482 5100 (Delfont Mackintosh) or 020 7845 0949 (Disney Group Sales).
Discounted rates for school groups are available for 10+ pupils for Monday-Thursday performances during term time, with one teacher going free. To book call 0844 482 5165 (Delfont Mackintosh) or 020 7845 0949 (Disney Group Sales).
Shakespeare in Love will be performed at the Noel Coward Theatre until June 2015. For more information visit www.shakespeareinlove.com
GTW interviews Eve Ponsonby, who plays Viola De Lesseps in Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre