Touring – reviewed at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Top-notch comic performances and a production that purrs like a Rolls-Royce mean that the touring production of Shakespeare In Love from Eleanor Lloyd Productions and Theatre Royal Bath is extremely seductive.
Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s Oscar-winning screenplay for the 1998 movie has been adapted for the stage by Lee Hall. Not surprisingly, this means that it works well as a play while still retaining the original’s cheerful daftness.
The story of a romance between a Shakespeare suffering from writer’s block and a noblewoman who wants to act is a breezy enough one, and the script is stuffed full of references to his plays and contemporaries. A little knowledge of Shakespeare is required to enjoy it, but too much may be a hindrance, as it bears little relation to any known facts.
This is entirely excusable, although it is rather odd that so much of the storyline is concerned with the playwright agonising over what will happen next in the plot of Romeo and Juliet when (as with his other plays) he simply lifted it from an earlier source.
Nevertheless, Pierro Niel-Mee’s breathlessly earnest Will and Imogen Daines’ eager Viola make an attractive central couple. What really makes the production work, however, is the succession of finely played comic turns around them.
Ian Hughes as the theatre impresario Philip Henslowe has a beautifully fatalistic air, while Edward Harrison gives his rival Richard Burbage an appealing bluster. Edmund Kingsley’s raffish Christopher Marlowe and Rowan Polonski’s peacockish Ned Alleyn are beautifully judged.
Bill Ward gives Lord Wessex, to whom Viola has been engaged against her will, the right degree of ripe villainy. Jazmine Wilkinson’s portrayal of a violence-obsessed, theatrically-inclined youngster has a suitably gruesome humour.
The Cast of Shakespeare in Love. Pic Pete Le May
The differing demands of screen and stage mean that, even with a nearly 20-strong cast, there has to be some doubling, but this is done very well, notably by Geraldine Alexander as Viola’s nurse and Queen Elizabeth. It is noticeable that all of the cast discharge their featured moments with gleeful energy, which is one of the most impressive things about Phillip Breen’s direction.
There is a speed and precision about the whole thing that is commendable. In this, Breen is aided greatly by Max Jones’s set – a revolving affair that is much less cumbersome and intrusive than such constructions often are. Indeed, it means that sequences where we need to see simultaneously what is taking place onstage and in the tiring house are handled with real elegance and economy.
colour and variety
Add to this some top-notch movement direction from Ayse Tashkiran, spectacular fight sequences by Renny Krupinski, and music (composed by Paddy Cunneen) that adds colour and variety without taking over, and you have a disposition of resources that should happen in large-scale touring productions but rarely does.
It all bowls along so merrily and frothily that you hardly notice that – for a play about Shakespeare and the nature of love – there is a distinct lack either of profundity or genuine emotion, and what little there is comes straight from Shakespeare himself. However, when a production is as slick, as expertly played and as crowd-pleasing as this, it hardly matters.
Running time 2 hours 45 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Monday 12– Saturday 17 November 2018
Daily at 7.30 pm, Matinees Wed and Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/shakespeareinlove.
Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 6AP.
Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24 November 2018.
Daily at 7.30 pm, Matinees Wed, Thurs and Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: https://www.cft.org.uk/whats-on/event/shakespeare-in-love