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Shakespeare in Love: A comedic tale of love, heartbreak and tragedy

| Theatre | 24/07/2014

Shakespeare in Love. Noel Coward Theatre.
Shakespeare in Love. Noel Coward Theatre.

In some ways it’s quite bewildering that Shakespeare in Love has taken so long to arrive in the West End. Sixteen-years have passed since the film adaptation swept the Oscars, and now the theatre production, scripted by the wonderful Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, has arrived in the West End, achieving a glorious, genuine and witty comedy theatrical production. Shakespeare in Love has all the tragedy and emotion associated with William Shakespeare timeless classic, Romeo and Juliet, but this is a production that is far from tragic; it is a thing of beauty, sad, and wonderful, a true masterpiece, depicting the trials and tribulations of the greatest playwright of all time, William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare in Love. Photo by Johan Persson.

Shakespeare in Love. Photo by Johan Persson.

The opening scenes of director Declan Donnellan’s production sees a young Will Shakespeare struggling to write what will later become the masterful Romeo and Juliet. Whilst suffering from an incessant batch of writers block, Will falls in love with Viola De Lesseps, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Unbeknown to Will, Viola is leading a secret life of her own; with a dream of becoming an actor, she masquerades under the identity of Thomas Kent to fulfil her ambition. What follows is a mirror image of Romeo and Juliet, as both Will and Viola take a perilous journey through the trials and tribulations of securing a future for their doomed love.

The setting of the play is akin to a gallery transported from the Elizabethan era straight into the Noel Coward Theatre. It’s simple, organic, and traditional, and above all it works. The rustic Elizabethan feeling of the production is in keeping with the authentic costume designs and music. Every aspect of Donnelan’s production has the hallmarks of a play, from the renaissance period- the stage was set for an emotionally resonant performance, and boy did the actors deliver.

Shakespeare in Love has an extraordinary calibre of actors that effortlessly ooze eloquence in this delightful Elizabethan period drama. Tom Bateman is both handsome and witty, and is able to naturally portray the hunger and determination of young Will, in a stirring and emotional performance. Lucy Briggs-Owen as the marvellous Viola, whether dressed as a boy or a girl, gives an emotionally charged and enchanting performance that is a delight. Colin Ryan as the slightly disturbed, bloodthirsty, morbid wanderer John Webster is an added bonus in a production that captivates the audience. Of course no Elizabethan drama would be complete without a faithful hound, in this instance, Spot the dog played by Barney gives the play a warm glow.

Shakespeare in Love. Photo by Johan Persson.

Shakespeare in Love. Photo by Johan Persson.

There were also starring performances from the likes of David Oakes as the charming and charismatic Christopher Marlowe. Paul Chahidi is a comedic delight as theatre owner Henslowe, as he strenuously does all in his power to ensure the curtain goes up on his show; whilst, David Ganly as the ruthless moneyman Fennyman gives a cracking performance. Despite this production having a large ensemble, there is a real sense of enjoyment and appreciation that transforms the production into a thing of beauty- there is no torch that shines brighter than that of Shakespeare in Love.

Shakespeare in Love is a fictional narrative of Will Shakespeare’s trials and tribulations, both in life and as a playwright. It was captured in motion-picture by John Madden, but it has now found its natural home in the Noel Coward Theatre. Shakespeare in Love is a production that not only smacks of beauty, but delivers an emotionally charged performance, that even Queen Elizabeth I would approve of.

Written by Sandip Kana | @sandipkana

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