Shakespeare might be in love, but it was Christopher Marlowe who stole the show. Shakespeare in Love – adapted from the Oscar winning movie – is brought to the stage at the Noël Coward Theatre. Through clever puns and Shakespearean allusions,Shakespeare in Love tells the story of the creation of Romeo and Juliet. Though originally supposed to be a comedy with a dog, Will Shakespeare’s doomed love with Viola De Lesseps, the daughter of a wealthy merchant and lover of the theatre, turns this comedy into a tragedy, able to capture the truth of love on the stage.
The set beautifully captures the style of the Globe theatre, a simple wooden construction. The combination of the set with modern technology allows the changing scenes to flow effortlessly, capturing both the time period and the ingenuity of the stage. The set work and transitions capture what seems to be at the heart of this production: a pure love of the theatre. The cast litters the stage throughout the entire production, crowding Shakespeare at work or silently observing private scenes from the wings. The crowd of followers hanging on with bated breath for Shakespeare to compose a line brings to life the megalomania actors and writers might feel about their own self-importance. The inclusion of this on stage audience literally makes ‘all the world a stage’ for the characters.
The allusions to writers of the time and the greater prominence of Marlowe as compared to the film speak to this theatrical celebration. Marlowe, as played by David Oakes, has the charm, timing and gravitas that made me wish this were a show about the other famed writer. This is not to belittle the work of the other performers, however, as the cast is composed of great supporting characters, most of whom get a moment to shine.
Unfortunately, less successful is the casting of Tom Bateman as Will and Lucy Briggs-Owen as Viola De Lesseps. Both performers are very solid individually or with the supporting cast – Briggs-Owen brings a unique blend of awkward spunkiness to her character – yet together they are flat. Viola seems more in love with Will’s writing than the man himself and Will has decidedly more chemistry with Marlowe. This speaks to the play’s focus being more about the lives of great artists rather than the love of the two main characters. It is only during the opening night performance of Romeo and Juliet that the pair (Will and Viola) shows any sign of believable chemistry with one another. Still, putting that aside, Shakespeare in Love proves a fun, clever and enjoyable adaptation of the movie. The production’s intelligence in fact shines through in the decision to place an emphasis on Marlowe and the fleeting power of inspiration rather than on a tenuous love story.