While some film-to-theatre transitions make people wonder “why?”, the adaptation of Marc Norman’s and Tom Stoppard’s award winning Shakespeare in Love into a play actually makes a lot of logical sense. Described as a ‘love letter to theatre’, the adaptation of the popular film shines in the 2014 theatre season, so much so that it has been given an extended run until January 2015.
'Shakespeare in Love' depicts a young Will Shakespeare (Tom Bateman) with writer’s block, trying to find his muse. Enter Viola DeLessops (Lucy Briggs-Owen), who disguised herself as a boy in order to be a player at Henslowe’s theatre. The story is, in short, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Twelfth Night’ combined, flawlessly mashed together into a play of wit and romance.
With a small cast of 28, everyone is thrust into the spotlight at some point in the show. Bateman proves to be a strong leading man, perfectly conveying Shakespeare’s character as a writer, a player and a lover, sometimes all at the same time. Briggs-Owen, who was sounding a little rough-voiced at that particular performance, plays the spirited heroine. She is, quite frankly, a joy to behold. Paul Chahidi is to be commended on the use of his physicality and superb comic timing as Henslowe. I found myself comparing Chahidi to Geoffrey Rush’s performance in the film, and I never thought I would say this, but Chahidi’s Henslowe was the superior.
The role of Christopher Marlowe was expanded for the stage adaptation, and David Oakes played the role with glee and charisma. The other supporting actors in Alistair Petrie, Doug Rao and Ian Bartholomew – Wessex, Ned Alleyn and Tilney respectively – also approached each of their roles with an enthusiastic energy that was visible in the entire cast.
The overall aesthetic of the show was incredibly eye-pleasing, from the luxurious costumes of the court to Nick Ormerod’s design of the set. The set itself is reminiscent of the Globe, complete with a classic trapdoor in the centre of the stage. The choreography of the fight scenes were entertaining, the dancing and music accurate to the period.
By having Lee Hall on hand to write the script to adapt it for the stage, you know it was going to be in safe hands. He did it once with ‘Billy Elliot’, and the much-loved film has been turned into a play that maintains its reputation. This truly is a stellar romantic comedy, and yes – there is, in fact, “a bit with a dog”.