Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s original screenplay for Shakespeare in Love, expertly adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, is as intelligent as is entertaining. Interlaced with nuanced references to Shakespeare’s work, it remains accessible to all – a true achievement in itself. Following Shakespeare as an individual - being the protagonist in his own story - is an interesting and seldom-used angle that personified the myth behind the pages and placed him in a relatable light.
At the heart of the story lies Will Shakespeare, a hopeless romantic whose writer’s block does not serve well in the number of plays he has been commissioned to write. At a casting call for his latest (and very much incomplete) ‘Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter’, he is presented with Thomas Kent – the male alter ego of Viola de Lesseps, whose dreams of performing on the stage cannot be achieved under the law that prevents all women from doing so. In a wonderfully-intricate and pseudo-Shakespearian turn of events, the duo become enamoured with each other and have to fight for their love in a complicated maze involving nobility, disguise and a distinctly regal dose of wordplay.
Pierro Niel-Mee’s Shakespeare brings a sincerity that stands well with the determination of Imogen Daine’s Viola; and the central pair are supported by a particularly well-cast company. Rowan Polonski provides expert comedic timing in his portrayal of the supercilious Ned Alleyn – actor extraordinaire and general high-achiever of Shakespeare’s previous productions. It is a testament to Phillip Breen’s holistic direction that every member of the large ensemble is able to come into their own, with each holding standout moments in their respective areas; delicately balancing the production both emotionally and spatially.
The set – a large, raised timer walkway mounted onto a revolving stage – is an ingenious solution of Max Jones to the wide array of locations within the play. Effortlessly transforming Viola’s bedroom into a theatre stage with one slick rotation, it provides an interesting backdrop for Tina Machugh’s atmospheric and creative lighting design. In particular, the use of candlesticks bathed the stage in a flickering glow, and the well-choreographed extinguishing of their flames serve to highlight the tragedies of a love that could never be – the outermost fragment of a truly wonderful production.
Shakespeare in Love runs at the King's Theatre until Saturday 17th November 2018.