TWENTY years after the Oscar-winning film (it won seven, including best screenplay) and just four years after the stage adaptation ran for almost a year in London, Shakespeare in Love has been revived and is on tour around the country, starting in Bath, and co-produced by Bath Theatre Royal.
Tom Stoppard’s film script, already a tidying-up of Marc Norman’s original work, was adapted for the stage by none other than Lee Hall, most famous for writing the stage version of Billy Elliot, and with original music by Paddy Cunneen. This music forms the bedrock of the show, with dances, underscoring, songs and themes played on recorders and strings, some of it live, some of it recorded, and all mixed very well by a rather loud-whispering sound person this evening, but that would not be noticed by anyone sat further away than a couple of rows, and most of the time the music was loud enough to cover them.
The play itself speeds along well, with plenty of references for any Shakespeare aficionado, indeed it must rate alongside Return To The Forbidden Planet and the more recent Upstart Crow as material for “spot the Bard quote”. The lead characters are believable and some scenes are straight from the film, particularly the scene in the ferryboat leading to the revelation of Viola.
The mainly young cast worked well together under the direction of Phillip Breen and the revolving set, with central platform and staircase was used to great effect. Will and Viola, played by Pierro Niel-Mee and Imogen Daines, are good as naive lovers finding each other, but perhaps lacked some of the strength of character of the same characters in the film.
Judi Dench famously won her Oscar for just a few screen minutes as Elizabeth I. Geraldine Alexander does the character proud, and is dressed to perfection, while giving Viola’s nurse a more serious side than in the film.
The best part in this play is probably Ned Alleyn, and Rowan Polonski gives every ounce of his talent to outshine every other actor in the troupe, both within and without the play.
All in all this is a good play to see if you like Shakespeare, but perhaps not if you are a fan of the film, as it is very hard to forget the film. It works superbly as a stand-alone piece, is directed, costumed, set and performed well, and I wish it well as it continues around the country on tour.