King's Theatre, Edinburgh (venue)
12 November 2018 (released)
14 November 2018
Lee Hall's adaptation of Marc Norman and top playwright Tom Stoppard's 1998 film SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE works only too well on stage for those of you who might have some reservations. So get down to the King's whilst you still can for a rollicking good Elizabethan extravaganza!
Norman and Stoppard, of course, know their proverbial onions. You might ask yourself why someone hasn't looked into this vastly interesting area before as there is simply so much scope on offer. For centuries we have been pondered that somewhat ‘delicate’ question of who wrote Shakespeare plays: did the great Bard actually write all of them himself? An old time music hall monologue even has a line which goes something like: “Beshrew, you scurvy knave you know Bacon wrote the lot” (advisor to Queen Elizabeth I - contemporary of the Bard that is Francis Bacon for the uninitiated). You will be pleased to know that this play provides the answer.
In a hilarious opening we see the creatively utterly uninspired but not altogether unlovable actor/writer Will Shakespeare (Pierro Niel-Mee) surrounded by his acting pals of ‘The Lord Chamberlain's Men’ at the Rose Theatre vainly attempting to pen a line after “Shall I compare thee to a…” Alas his efforts are quite hopeless! We are instantly aware that our 'greatest playwright's' genius may have been greatly exaggerated. Never mind, help is at hand... as it just so happens that one of young Shakespeare’s best friends is none other than that other famous Elizabethan playwright, Christopher (Kit) Marlowe (an effective performance from Edmund Kingsley). Marlowe's own genius is unquestioned though unfortunately his output was curtailed when he was stabbed through the eye in a brawl in a tavern in Deptford (South London). Here we see Shakespeare's great and immortal words tripping off Marlowe’s tongue at almost frightening speed. Shakespeare would simply be lost without Marlowe.
As we all know the times were very different then and all of Shakespeare's female parts were written for and performed by men. Shakespeare is in all kinds of difficulties; he can't even come up with a fraction of a plot of his great romantic play ‘Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter'. Worse still, he can't even think of a name for his leading lady. And he has but a short time to deliver as theatre owner Henslowe (a nicely characterized performance from Ian Hughes) is being subjected to torture for his massive debts (nothing too serious, just burning the soles of his feet). Thank goodness for Marlowe who comes up with the entire plot and characters in no time. And we have all kinds of chicanery going on what with his own infatuation for leading player Richard Burbage's (Edward Harrison) woman – Kate (Rosalind Steele) not exactly helping. The Queen (Geraldine Alexander) herself is looking forward to seeing her new play and boy oh boy, does she like dogs incorporated.
The auditions are hilarious - we even have a cheeky little boy called Webster (wasn't he also a playwright?) auditioning (Jazmine Wilkinson) sounding rather like a latter day London urchin. Enter brilliant auditionee Viola de Lessups (Imogen Daines) who is obviously forced to pose as a male actor going by the name of Thomas Kent though the disguise is somewhat unconvincing. Not only is young Shakespeare impressed with Tom Kent but of course – and could it be otherwise – he falls hopelessly in love with Viola… without knowing that she is Thomas Kent. Make of this what you will but Shakespeare’s previous romances 'are melted into thin air'. What’s more, he has found his ‘Romeo’ and the audience is treated to further comical shenanigans as we have a male Romeo (played by a female) and a male Juliet. The real difficulty (the path of love was never easy) comes with the arrival of the wicked and powerful Lord Wessex (Edinburgh regular Bill Ward delivering the goods yet again), for Viola’s father has pretty much sold her off to Wessex. This is not going to purport well. We even have a bedroom farce with Shakespeare in drag after nearly being caught out by Wessex - who is well in with the highest in the land. Will Shakespeare, shame on him, puts his muse in the frame which culminates in Marlowe's murder. BUT... well, no spoilers here but you can be assured that 'All's well that ends well'. The writer's have taken certain liberties with history but why not? This is broadly speaking a comedy full of witty Shakespeare allusions, and we might say that Shakespeare took certain liberties with ‘Richard III’ (he could hardly do anything else with a Tudor House). The main cast are amply supported by Rowan Polonski who provides some comic relief as the flamboyant stage diva ‘Ned Alleyn’ and Kevin N Golding is equally in top form as Henslowe’s stuttering tailor who only lands a role because his hopelessly debt-ridden master owes him money.
The rotating platform serves the minimal stage construction well on an otherwise near bare stage. Phillip Breen can be commended for his well-paced direction with some enjoyable dance interludes thrown in for good measure.
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE runs until Sat 17th of Nov (www.capitaltheatres.com)