Shakespeare in Love review - July 2014

The show has plenty of potential but is over played and hammy. Nonetheless, a theatrical guilty pleasure.

I was not the only one who was pretty excited about Shakespeare in Love, I mean the film was a hoot AND written by an actual playwright (Tom Stoppard) so already potentially lent itself to a stage transfer. When I heard the production was to be directed by Declan Donnellan and designed by Nick Ormerod, founders of the esteemed theatre company Cheek by Jowl, my faith was fully with this production being pretty damn good. It irks me to say it did not quite live up to expectation, but here is why...

Whilst I enjoyed the show on a basic level, dramatically speaking it was extremely hammy but ironically lacking in theatrical "meat." The performance was heightened to the characterisation one has come to expect from a musical, yet this show was no such performance. It was almost like a musical wherein at the last minute it becomes very apparent somebody forgot to write the songs. That said, there is music, in a kind of stereotypical choral Elizabethan way (honey, get me a LUTE!)  The show was a lot like a trip to a period attraction

such as the London Dungeons...somewhat like I'd imagine a "Tudor World" at Walt Disney to look and sound like (interesting considering Disney co-produced the show!)

In all it's heightened hamminess, the production tries a touch too hard to replicate the humour of its predecessor, with some scenes becoming a little  awkward to watch as the actors play for laughs, such as in the audition montage. Argh. Similarly, ideas that were explored in the film, such as the stuttering actor, did not translate well to the theatre.

The actors had a great deal of potential and I felt like any uncomfortable moments were down to direction, rather than a lack of performance skill. for instance Tom Bateman was silly yet sincere as the somewhat fraudulent William Shakespeare. David Oakes was a camp but amusing Marlow and I very much enjoyed Anna Carteret as Queen Elizabeth! However, across the board, I felt the comic moments could use a little more attention to timing.

Despite the productions shortfallings, it did LOOK nice (again, TUDOR WORLD!) Nick Ormerod had gone to great lengths to evoke a Jacobean Playhouse in his lovely wooden set that was innovatively used throughout the show. Enjoying a show is made that bit easier when the technical elements are aesthetically pleasing, and this was certainly the case here.

Yes the show was hamtastic, yes it was a bit base and cringey in some key areas, but it looked fabulous and THERE IS A DOG among the cast (yes a REAL and wonderfully cute shaggy dog!) Rather like Queen Elizabeth, who seemingly had a penchant for canines in plays, I was so delighted by the dog's presence, I couldn't help coming away from the Noel Coward Theatre smiling!

I think there is huge potential in this production, but it is in serious need of a performative re-think. Either go hell for leather and make this a truly hilarious musical (somebody, get writing!), or tone down the characterisation and some of the comic moments.

Whilst I think that Shakespeare in Love could have benefited from a more seasonally matched Christmas opening (it is sort of an Elizabethan panto) I'd definitely suggest popping down and giving it a watch. As I said, there is a lovely dog!

1984 west end review
23 July 2014, Noel Coward Theatre