Wednesday 28th January
Comedy, that's what they want. Love! And a bit with a dog..!'
I went to see
with some of my fellow #LDNTheatreBloggers this week. A lot of people, I know, are very fond of the film, but I sheepishly admit the infatuation rather passed me by. So I sat in the theatre with a vague recollection of a film watched in the days before I'd spent years dissecting Shakespeare. Without risk of being disappointed by an unmatched stage-version, I was happy to just judge the show on its merits as a piece of live theatre.
Shaekspeare in Love on London's West End
The stage production, currently showing at the Noel Coward Theatre, like the film features a young William Shakespeare finding his mojo and muse in the form of a closet actor, Viola de Lesseps (originally played by Gwyneth Paltrow in the film). Shakespearian disguise, secret identities and forbidden love prevail and the result is pleasing. It was a lovely night of theatre, complete with live animals, a glorious cast and some touching moments. Shakespeare's linguistic library is skillfully woven into a witty script, drizzled with enough Shakespeare references to flatter his fans (oh how we chortled at the references). While the words kept me engaged, the strong company gave life and shape to the piece.
The impressively large ensemble were omnipresent, draped over balconies and leaning on pillars, reminding us of the theatrical spectacle and the timeless human desire to watch drama. There were moments of real power and focus, with the cast breathing together, and a vocabulary of physical theatre conjoined with rather jolly traditional dance styles. Mostly this created a beautiful canvas for the piece, but every now and then the sheer number of people on stage distracted from the heart of the action. A little too much clutter meant in a key stage fight my eyes darted across the frantic bodies on stage, unsure where to strike my gaze. There is a lovely, mesmerizing boat dreamt up by the ensemble, but so hypnotised was I that I forgot to watch the key dialogue. But for the most part the action was clear and my attention was seized.
The romantic leads, in the shape of Shakespeare Orlando James and Eve Ponsonby as his muse Viola, were brave, chemically charged and eager. Only a few weeks into their roles, having recently taken the baton from the original cast, the actors performed with all the fervour and tenacity you could ask for. It was nice to see an onstage romance that I actually believed, garnished with sexual chemistry, physical command and a cheeky kiss or two. Ponsonby's brilliance meanst she delivered some of Shakespeare's lines in a way that made me understand them anew. Supporting them, Ryan Donaldson as Ned and Edward Franklin as Marlowe piped in yet more young energy, delivering the text with precision and gusto.
The stage, an echo to an Elizabethan playhouse, rolled between intimate and expansive, perfectly complimenting the action and allowing for the obligatory balcony scenes. I'm always relieved to witness scene changes that have been given meaning and beauty, as they were here. I enjoyed the way the music was integrated into the piece, generating an authenticity and silver thread through which the atmosphere hung.
I was (pleasantly) surprised that Shakespeare in Love was so funny. Laugh out loud often funny, and heart warming on occasion too. I'd certainly recommend it for a boisterous, charming night of theatre.
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