Izzy Cutts reviews the new, theatrical reinvention of John Maddon’s famous 1998 film
As a keen fan of the film and a Stratford-Upon-Avon girl, I had high hopes for Declan Donnellan’s new production of Shakespeare In Love. Co-produced by Disney and met with an array of five star reviews, it is quite an anomaly in the West End, having begun life as a film. In the end, though, I found it very difficult not to compare it to the film because it was basically the same in every way – even the lead, Tom Bateman, bore an uncanny resemblance to Joseph Fiennes.
The opening scene was the only part that largely differed from the film and I actually thought it worked really well. The scene shows Shakespeare trying to write his famous line, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’, surrounded by eager listeners as he teases the words out of his brain: it’s both frustrating and humorous.
The production was nicely done but it wasn’t ground breaking
Another redeeming feature was the dog. A long-running joke throughout the play, that every play should have a bit with a dog in it, this was proved right in the end with the dog saving the day and biting Lord Wessex, allowing the play to go on – he basically stole the show.
The production was nicely done but it wasn’t ground breaking. London is a hub of cutting-edge writing and performance, and the West End has produced some really game-changing theatre in recent years (for example. the National Theatres’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time which has just transferred to Broadway). In comparison, the broady, more traditional ‘West End’ style of this production felt quite average. It was funny, but a lot of the time the humour felt cringe-worthy. It was full of puns, particularly Shakespeare puns, and at one point used an actor’s stutter for comedic effect, which was outright insulting.
I thought the set worked really well and was very Royal Shakespeare Company-esque. It consisted of two balconies that stretched across the stage and could move from front to back. It looked convincing as the theatre, backstage, Viola’s home and Greenwich Palace and made for a dynamic performance. Music was also used effectively throughout; using live musicians and more traditional instruments felt very authentic.
It think it might have been better to separate the farcical players from the lovers more. Having the two stories so entwined, particularly in the final scenes, took away a lot of the severity and tenderness of the love story, (something that I would argue translated better on film).
It was interesting to see the film brought to life, particularly as it is over 16 years since it was released. However, I was disappointed with the lack of innovation in a story that so many know: it could have been an opportunity to make something really special. The farce and the romance were good individually, but their mix made it difficult to become involved in either deeply. Furthermore, as so much of the play involved performance and recital of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it was easy to doze off with familiarity. It has understandably been a West End hit because of the beautiful story and good entertainment value for all the family. However, with all the amazing and provoking theatre produced in London: I expected more.
Shakespeare In Love is on at the Noel Coward theatre. For more information go to their website. To find out more about UCL’s delves into Shakespeare visit the UCLU Drama Society facebook page or website.
Featured image credit: Steven Lille