Shakespeare In Love – Review

Orlando James in Shakespeare In Love. Photos Johan Persson.
Orlando James in Shakespeare In Love. Photos Johan Persson.

New leads have been installed in the hit Elizabethan romcom Shakespeare In Love so the press enthusiastically took up their seats last night at London’s Noël Coward Theatre to give them a once over.

I say enthusiastically because you can’t help but love this cheesy, wonderful, heady romp. I couldn’t wait to get back in the stalls.

SIL is an absolute joy to watch. It takes a certain something to hold your own in the West End against the dominance of long-running musicals.

But this is a very special show that is a sheer delight from the first second you take your seat. Just take in Nick Ormerod’s hugely impressive set that dominates the stage.

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE,

Resembling the interior of the original wooden Rose Theatre there are balconies and parapets that are hung, throughout, with players doubling as paying public.

Then listen to Paddy Cunneen’s original music and the wonderful harmonising madrigals that help frame every scene.

And sit back and absorb every word of a sharp, witty, effervescent script penned, not by Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe, but an alliance between the best writers working in theatre today.

Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, Pitman Painters, War Horse) has produced a supremely skillful adaptation of Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s original screenplay.

There are in-jokes, with references to other Shakespearean plays (some not yet written), old chestnuts to make you groan, bawdy jokes and gags that will have you laugh out loud.

Shakespeare In Love is an irrepressible, joyous, feelgood comedy that won’t fail to leave you thoroughly enthralled.

There’s been a subtle change of emphasis since the show first opened last July.

Orlando James and Eve Ponsonby have taken over as as Will Shakespeare and his muse Viola De Lessops.

Whether it’s their performances, or come from director Declan Donnellan, but it feels as if the comedy has been ramped up to, at times, pure farce.

The play’s the thing..Here we have a story about a playwright suffering from writer’s block. He’s being harassed by theatre owners Philip Henslowe and Richard Burbage for new work and the local money lender wants a return on his payday loan.

It’s all so familiar. Will is now less a romantic sop and more any over-worked, underpaid, scriptwriter working in modern TV or theatre (and has the ulcers to prove it).

There’s even a (water) taximan who tries to press his own scribblings onto the desperate and, increasingly love-sick, Will (“Eh, you’ll never guess who I had in the back of my boat the other night..”).

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE,

The large cast play to the theatre – both theatres and there are a lot of expansive, larger-than-life performances but, above all, there’s fun.

James and Ponsonby make an excellent double act. There’s a lot of charisma there but they also are comfortable with the comedy.

His Will is stressed out, neurotic, and desperate while she is bold, daring, and gauche. They reminded me of Rachel and Ross off Friends.

Ryan Donaldson’s all-action leading man, Ned Alleyn, the young Olivier or Errol Flynn of his day, bounds on stage to offer his support to Shakespeare’s fledgling project (tentively entitled Romeo & Ethal The Pirate’s Daughter).

He gives us some realistic swords-play (well done Terry King for training them so well) and commanding, confident performance.

Suzanne Burden gives a memorable cameo at Queen Elizabeth as does Stuart Wilde as the filthy, unkempt, blood-lusty wretch John Webster who grew up to be something of a writer himself (yep, another industry joke).

Edward Franklin’s Christopher Marlowe is underused but still hogging the credit for coming up with Will’s most memorable lines.

While the rest of the cast, who are too many to mention, all deserve an enormous credit for being, collectively, so damn good.

Shakespeare In Love is, for me, one of the best shows currently running in the West End. It has everything – love, comedy, escapism, a couple of excellent sword fights, a bit of Romeo & Juliet, oh..and a dog.. by royal command.

*****stars

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