Based on the 1998 screenplay by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman, Lee Hall’s stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love looks to be a success following it’s opening at the Noel Coward Theatre in July. Hall is better credited for his prior adaptation Billy Elliot: The Musical, which achieved the Olivier Award for Best Musical in 2006.
The production’s world premiere neatly coincides with William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday and is set within an intimate venue located in the hub of London’s Leicester Square. The synopsis follows a young Shakespeare and his prominence as a playwright in the late 14th century. He suffers from a case of writer’s block until he meets his muse, a noblewoman named Ms Viola De Lesseps.
Their forbidden love soon prompts the playwright to pen the most famous love story of his time: Romeo and Juliet.
My guest and I were welcomed by a crowded theatre as we proceeded to take our seat in the stalls. We were provided with adequate leg room and a close proximity to the stage, almost central to provide a perfect view of the action. The cast comprises of 28 talented actors and accompanying musicians, who did well to bring the story to life on stage. Music would have been hugely popular during the Elizabethan period, with such ambience suitably tailored by composer Paddy Cunneen.
I’m not well accustomed to the tradition of theatre, but it was easy to notice how much care and attention had been given to ‘setting the scene.’ The use of mechanics to move the main balcony structure for example, meant it simply glided back and forth on the stage with very little sound disturbance. Its multiple tiers provided adequate acting space and a convincing use of props.
I’m not accustomed to its movie predecessor, yet the intertwining of love stories was very cleverly portrayed without appearing like a rip off of its renowned accolade, Romeo and Juliet. The two lead roles emitted a strong chemistry as they communicated through the mother tongue of the time. Old English literature translated well onto the stage, including some well-known lines uttered from some of Shakespeare’s greatest works. Such figures depicted include Tom Bateman in the role of William Shakespeare and Lucy Briggs-Owen as inflicted love interest Viola De Lesseps.
Briggs-Owen stood out most to me, as she was gracefully able to pull off the challenge of playing two characters, one of which was in disguise. The subject matter is well referenced towards the end of the play, whereby Shakespeare sets to work on the Twelfth Night, rumoured to have been written at the start of the 15th century. The play was not what I expected, but those visiting will experience a good old fashioned love story, with a frequent injection of comedy.
Personally, the countless recurring jokes throughout made it feel more like a pantomime performance rather than a romantic period drama. Having said that, I enjoyed the production and left the theatre in a mild state of contemplation rather than excitement.
Shakespeare in Love is currently scheduled to run until October 2014.