Adapted from the 1998 Oscar winner, Shakespeare in Love is the latest screen to stage production to hit the West End. The story imagines William Shakespeare writing Romeo and Juliet. In auditions for his new play he meets and falls in love with Viola, who disguises herself as a boy so that she can fulfil her dream of acting. It is a warm romantic comedy of errors come drama. The merits of the film version make it clear to see why it would make an excellent transfer to stage.
Playing at the Noel Coward Theatre, the production opens with a flood of actors entering the stage conveying the hustle and bustle of Elizabethan London. Unfortunately there are some moments towards the beginning that feel a little overacted but perhaps this is due to some of the cast feeling nervous as this is the first night with the new cast. The play really gets into its stride when the two lovers, Viola (Eve Ponsonby) and Will (Orlando James), perform their balcony scene. Everything comes together: the romance and raw sexual chemistry between the couple juxtaposed with the witty banter and friendly competition between Kit Marlowe (Edward Franklin) and Will.
Will’s role in the film version that Joseph Fiennes creates is excitable and tempestuous but sufficiently contained onscreen. Onstage, this feels a little too much, a little overacted. Will begins his performance at such a height of emotion that it feels limited, leaving himself little room to show his range further. Also, this may seem like a petty aside but: either get your hair cut or stop pushing it out of your face. If your character isn’t doing it, you shouldn’t be either. James did, however, bring humour to the role by bringing shades of a bumbling Hugh Laurie or an awkward Chandler Bing to the bard that Joseph Fiennes’ self-assured portrayal could not accommodate.
One of the great triumphs of the production is the impressive scenery: beautifully crafted, heavy wooden barley twist columns with two floors of balconies above that allow the space of the stage to be used really well and overcome the difficulties of performing a play to an audience about performing a play to another audience. The stage design achieves the near impossible: impressive moveable scenery that allows for a wide range of locations that is slickly executed and barely noticeable.
Overall, the play delivers a pleasant evening’s entertainment. Moments of great comedy come from the script’s self awareness of the form and the theatre world. The live onstage traditional music gives the production a more authentic feel. There is excellent staging and direction particularly during the scene between Will and Viola in a row boat on the Thames. A special mention must be given to Ryan Donaldson as Ned Alleyn, a consummate performance and it astounds me to read that this is his professional debut. As the new cast finesse their roles and gain more confidence, I think this play could be a real hit. 3.5/5
Review written by Emily Channon.
Shakespeare in Love is currently showing at the Noel Coward Theatre until Saturday 18th April. For more information on the production, visit here…