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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
at the Noel Coward

NO COMPARISON
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Tom Bateman and Company/ Ph: Johan Persson

Other than sheer opportunism, I cannot, for the life of me, see the point of turning a multi Oscar-winning film into a stage play that, by definition, cannot hope to match the lavish production values or the dazzling star wattage of the original. Nothing in Lee Hall’s theatrical adaptation of Shakespeare in Love improves on the sparkle and freshness of Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s 1998 screenplay.
 
In general, shoe-horning well-known films into the confines of a West End stage is a tricky business at best, justified only if a fourth dimension is somehow added – as was the case in the recent production of Strangers on a Train, which relied more on Patricia Highsmith’s novel than on the Hitchcock film for its inspiration.
 
There is nothing, however, in director Declan Donnellan’s workmanlike stage version of Shakespeare in Love to lure audiences into paying about five times more than they would if they’d bought a copy of the DVD.
 
What’s on offer here is a watered-down take on an inspired premise. In the original, as you may recall, Will Shakespeare, when we first meet him, is suffering from writer’s block. His muse has deserted him and work on his new play, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter, is almost at a standstill. Then he meets the ravishing Viola de Lesseps, a well-born beauty whose passion to become an actor is doomed by the law that prevents women from appearing on a public stage.
 
Disguising herself as a boy called Thomas Kent, Viola successfully auditions for the part of Romeo. But it doesn’t take long for young Shakespeare to see through her disguise, and the couple fall truly, madly, deeply in love. But that, too, is doomed, for the aspiring playwright already has a wife in Stratford-On-Avon and Viola is promised in marriage to the prosaic Lord Wessex. The flame of love, however, reignites Shakespeare’s creative juices and, inspired by their forbidden romance, he reworks his play, now calling it Romeo and Juliet.
 
While the stage version retains much of the screenplay’s wit, it cannot reproduce the theatrical in-jokes, the delightfully self-conscious anachronisms, etc, with much conviction, or the roistering sense of period that was so entertainingly conveyed in the original. More damagingly, the present cast lacks the charisma of its celluloid counterparts.
 
Tom Bateman conveys a certain brogadaccio as the love struck Will, but without the star-quality Joseph Fiennes brought to the role. And there is simply no comparison between Lucy Briggs-Owen’s charmless Viola (and Thomas Kent) and the enchanting, bewitching Gwynneth Paltrow in the film.
 
Nick Ormerod’s all-purpose set is certainly serviceable, though not particularly striking. Several scenes struck me as being under lit (by lighting designer Neil Austin). And some of the supporting performances (not including an accommodating pooch called Spot) were indifferent, to say the least. The whole enterprise suffers from a distinct lack of lustre, inevitably prompting the question, why?

 


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