Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s screen play Shakespeare In Love took the public by storm, and even though critics weren’t exactly impressed (when are they ever) it harvested several Oscars and found its way into many hearts – thespians as well as the non-theatrical audience. Now adapted for the stage and running in Shakespeare’s world of London theatre-land, Shakespeare In Love once more sets out to charm its audience by showing the heart and early inspiration of our very own Will.
Not much is known of Shakespeare’s private life and a lot of scholars continue their clever guess-work in order to reveal the man behind the many masterpieces we still treasure today. Romanticising the emotional world of Shakespeare, Shakespeare In Love offers a suggestion to where all those brilliant love stories have come from. Just like one of his own plays it is a story of true love never running smooth and how fate and class often step in the way of lovers living happily ever after. Will has lost his inspiration and is in need of a muse. Brain-picking the brilliant playwright Marlowe, he desperately tries to survive writing for two commissioners but struggles with a writer’s block of almost absurd proportions. When he meets Viola De Lesseps, a young lady at Queen Elizabeth I’s court, he falls madly in love and starts writing what eventually becomes the incredibly tragic Romeo and Juliet. The play is almost a direct description of his affair with Viola which is doomed from the beginning.
Taking a beloved film like Shakespeare In Love and adapting it for stage is a risky business that smells of milking a product for financial reasons rather than artistic vision. But Lee Hall’s stage adaptation quickly shows that this is a piece of brilliant storytelling with the ability to not only survive different medias, but actually a piece thriving even more on stage with a live audience.
Still keeping the best punch-lines and details from the film (with Elizabeth I’s brilliant one-liners being one of them) it resembles the period perfectly with Nick Ormerod’s impressive wooden set linking cleverly with the Globe and the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Constantly morphing the set it shows versatility, and having the ensemble on stage for most of it creates a rural and authentic atmosphere to the play that’s hard to find in the commercialised West End.
Creating the role of Shakespeare, Tom Bateman shows incredible charm and emotional range as the troubled and eccentric poet. Highlighting the special friendship and rivalry between Will and Marlowe, the play really hits a delicate note and detail the film missed. David Oakes plays Marlowe with charm and ease and the constant exchanges between the two offers a truthful insight to the world of poetry in Elizabethan time and the rivalry one would think the two would possess alongside a possible close friendship. Lucy Briggs-Owen is a passionate and exciting Viola De Lesseps, bringing much needed girl power and balls to her performance, making it one of the most exciting roles for females on stage at the moment.
Director Declan Donnellan has created an authentic and hugely entertaining stage production of Shakespeare In Love that not only offers great range in emotion, pace and story, but also proves itself wittier and more rooted than the original film production. The music and dance supports the production beautifully like any production at Shakespeare’s Globe, and drawing on the Bard’s stage traditions it connects with its world on many levels. Its on-point humour hits all the right notes and draws on the knowledge of a passionate London theatre-audience who will know Will’s work down to the ink, fully embracing the wonderful quotes and hidden remarks, and enjoy a very Shakespearean night out without it being yet another version of The Dream. Even if it isn’t historically correct, it offers a humorous and touching insight to a very personal Shakespeare and how we’d like to imagine him being inspired. If you loved the film, you will find yourself head-over-heals with the play. It definitely suits the theatre and feels more authentic and real in London theatre-land.
Shakespeare In Love is playing at the Noël Coward Theatre. For more information and tickets, see the Shakespeare in Love Official website. Photo by Johan Persson.