“That’s what they want: love, and a bit with a dog…”
As with so many of my great obsessions, I first saw Shakespeare in Love kind of by accident. Well, the main event that day (that had been planned for a while) was Martin Freeman in Richard III – ever one for a theme, I thought it would be fun to turn it into ‘Shakespeare Saturday’. When I discovered that Tom Bateman (who is marvellous as Giuliano in Da Vinci’s Demons) was starring as Will, I thought it had to be worth a watch…
I had watched the film before going to see the play – mainly to remind myself of the story, but also because it is a fantastic film – so I did end up comparing the two versions in my head. Only to conclude that they are as good as each other! This, in my opinion, is down to the fact that the film version was tweaked and ‘re-prioritised’ for the stage; it’s not just a straight copy.
Shakespeare in Love manages to somehow evoke the past whilst retaining a modern tinge.
The set is styled simply as an Elizabethan playhouse (albeit with the ability to move the balcony back and forth, depending on the scene), allowing it to pass for a variety of settings – although its use as the Curtain Theatre (onstage and backstage) is probably the most memorable.
In Shakespeare’s time, sections of plays would transition by the actors walking on or off stage in the middle of their lines, which the show pays homage to by overlapping scenes. Helped by its unique idea of having much of the company scattered across all levels of the stage.
And as it’s a comedy, it even ends as all comedies of the time did: with a jig!
I can’t go any further without mentioning Paddy Cuneen’s fantastic score, and the musicians and singers who bring it to life. In particular, countertenor Charlie Tighe – and especially on ‘Oh Mistress Mine’. Hauntingly beautiful.
Shall I… Shall I… Talk about the actors now?
You simply could not ask for a better lead than Tom Bateman. He is so committed to the role his fingers are blotted with ink for each performance. He has exquisite comic timing, and is able to seamlessly move from comedy to tragedy – if you aren’t crying along with him as he deals with Marlowe’s premature death then you are made of stone!
Talking of Marlowe, let’s move on to David Oakes… (The One Show would be proud of that segue!) Kit is a much bigger player in the stage version – particularly in the reimagined balcony scene (probably my favourite part of the show) where he basically is the 16th century equivalent of a wingman for Will! Oakes is an effortlessly suave Marlowe, with the occasional hint of cheekiness – and just the right side of smug.
Lucy Briggs-Owen brings a refreshing enthusiasm to the role of Viola; you truly believe that she lives for the theatre. She brings a great energy to the stage, and combines that with some terrific physical comedy – her range of facial expressions can’t fail to make you laugh!
Sadly, the cast is too big for me to go through and talk about them all. But just a few more mentions: Alistair Petrie is a wonderfully sneery Wessex, Doug Rao a fantastically flamboyant Ned Alleyn, and Paul Chahidi a perpetually optimistic Henslowe. Special mention to Colin Ryan, who is effortlessly hilarious as a young John Webster – his audition scene makes me laugh so much it hurts!
So, to conclude… Go and see Shakespeare in Love! It’s a feelgood show that will keep you going back for more. I’ve seen it 8 times – and each time it’s felt subtly different. That probably sums up what I love about the theatre: as much as I would like some shows to be filmed so I could watch them over and over (at no extra cost!), you can’t beat the magic and unpredictability of live theatre. One line from the film I do wish they had kept is “Will Shakespeare has a play, let’s go and cough through it!” – just to try and shame some relentless coughers into silence every now and then!
A date for your diaries: a selection (I don’t think it’s all of them) of the original cast are leaving on Saturday 10 January. So if you do want to catch them before they leave, get your tickets booked now! I’m all set for my 9th trip, just so you know….
And while you’re thinking about it, Shakespeare in Love has been nominated for 5 WhatsOnStage Awards! If you have a spare moment, head over to their website and vote for Tom Bateman (Best Actor in a Play), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Best Actress in a Play), David Oakes (Best Supporting Actor in a Play) and the show itself (Best New Play; Best Set Design – Nick Ormerod).