SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
at the Noel Coward Theatre
Too much Shakespeare ? Too much love ? Lee Hall's light-touch reworking of the original Stoppard/Norman screenplay gets the balance about right, with plenty of sly references to the Bard and his works, but a strong [and vaguely Shakespearean] romantic intrigue between young Will and the tomboy Viola de Lesseps [Lucy Briggs-Owen].
The setting [Nick Ormerod] is heavy wooden galleries, based loosely on Henslowe's Rose. Three levels, a wooden stage floor, and a mobile central section which lets us shift in an instant from backstage to front of house, from bedroom to bawdyhouse.
Some moments work very well: the opening writer's block [“Shall I compare thee to a … mummers' play”], or Kit Marlowe [David Oakes] prompting the amorous Will [Tom Bateman] like Cyrano from the shadows beneath the balcony. Our conviction that Marlowe was the genius behind the Stratford man is gently nurtured throughout.
In Declan Donnellan's warm-hearted production there's much music, perhaps too heavily amplified – especially that strident alto – witty dialogue and courtly dancing [sometimes simultaneously], cross-dressing, a trap-door, a delightful dog and some superb performances from the huge company: Alistair Petrie's blustering Wessex, Anna Carteret's virgin Queen, David Ganly's “pedlar of bombast” Burbage [of Blessed memory], Abigail McKern's Nurse and Paul Chahidi's harassed Henslowe.
Everyone's favourite moments from the film are preserved, of course – the boatman [Thomas Padden] and young Webster [Colin Ryan] his role much enhanced here.
The ending, with the stage of the Curtain expanded to fill the space, is magical, as the doomed love story, and Shakespeare's writing career, are ingeniously entwined.