Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s Shakespeare In Love is a witty film that is somewhat disproportionately responsible for my love for Shakespeare. Lee Hall’s stage adaptation is the most meta of plays and not only consolidates my Shakespearean love affair, but strengthens my passion for theatre as a whole.
It is the story of a young Shakespeare (Pierro Niel-Mee) with a dramatically ironic case of writer’s block struggling to pay his debts, and taunted by the success of his friend and rival Kit Marlowe (Edmund Kingsley). Meanwhile, the stifled Viola de Lesseps (Imogen Daines) dreams of performing on stage the passionately eloquent love affair she desperately seeks in real life. With a charming plot, this is an adaptation where the milieu, plot, and script are of equal importance.
The revolving stage is perfect for this play, as it seamlessly transitions from stage to boudoir and back again, much like our devilish Shakespeare. In the centre of the stage, there stands a simple but striking scaffold to mimic Renaissance theatre style, which ingeniously offers the audience exclusive access to both the Rose’s front stage and backstage. In particular, the progressions from internal monologue to real dialogue are disarmingly smooth. Even in the middle of a line, the set may pass through two scenes as the stage revolves and we move from a rehearsal to the actual performance.
The river scene is a real tour de force for designers Max Jones, Tina Machugh, and Dyfan Jones, which allows them to exploit the revolving stage. The strategic placement of reeds and candles that rotate with the stage is complemented by the water sound effect. This lends an aesthetic as well as a realistic quality to this simple scene, which dreamily transports the audience to the murky banks of the Thames.
I was also especially impressed by the blocking throughout. Ayse Tashkiran has done a marvellous job to ensure a general fluidity throughout the play, which aids the comedy whilst effortlessly occupying the space available. Renny Krupinski should also receive commendation for the complex fight scenes that are fraught but still entertaining.
Happily, by no means is such a sensory display betrayed by the cast, all of whom have wonderful chemistry and natural rhythm. The camaraderie between Niel-Mee and Kingsley is lighthearted and convincing: Marlowe’s gatecrashing of Shakespeare’s vertical romantic advances towards Viola is the perfect blend of brotherly banter and (literal) support.
Daines is enjoyable as Viola, but I would like to see more tonal variation in her delivery when her character is disguised as a player, rather than relying merely on her arresting projection. However, the comedic aspects of her character are ably conveyed – the tantalising kissing scene during rehearsal springs to mind.
Ultimately, it is a production of which director Phillip Breen should be immensely proud. With something for everyone, Shakespeare In Love is “a very palpable hit” for us Shakespeare nerds, but more importantly, a tender and entertaining jaunt that will reignite your love for romantic comedy.
PHOTOS: Capital Theatres