Theatre Thought: Shakespeare In Love at the Noel Coward
Last week I decided to make the most of my newly found (f)unemployment and trundle down to take in a midweek matinee. Is there a greater pleasure I ask you? Sneaking inside a theatre and nestling down among the red velvet to be entertained on a Wednesday afternoon whilst all around you harassed looking suits and court shoes run frantically into Pret to pick up their standard crayfish and rocket sandwich, before diving back into a board (bored) meeting all afternoon. Surely, the midweek matinee is a treat of the highest order.
Having been a huge, unashamed fan of Shakespeare in Love since, well, forever, it seemed prudent to catch it in all it’s West End glory. There’s pretty much nothing I don’t love about that film. The beard on Joseph Fiennes (OR SHOULD THAT READ JOSEPH FIIIIINES AM I RIGHT LADIES), the disdainful look on Ben Affleck’s face when he shouts, “GENTLEMEN UPSTAGE LADIES DOWNSTAGE ARE YOU A LADY MR KENT”, the mug with ‘Stratford-On-Avon’ printed on it and the use of ‘Warwickshire Shithouse’- the best onscreen insult since Peter Banning called Rufio a ” lewd, crude, rude, bag of pre-chewed food, dude!” It’s wonderful, tongue-in-cheek fun. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t think the stage version would live up to it.
BUT OH HOW I WAS WRONG!
What a glorious, wonderful, codpiecey romp this was. A huge, warm celebration of love and of the theatre itself. How the crowd whooped and cheered as we witnessed the unfolding of Shakespeare’s genius, as he finds his inspiration for Romeo and Juliet through his ill-fated love affair with the cross-dressing Lady Viola De Lessups. Lee Hall has done a stellar job adapting Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s original screenplay, keeping the best bits and expanding on other themes and characters. With a HUGE cast (28!) hop, skip and a-jumping about the stage to create the hustle and bustle of Elizabethan London and a fabulous quartet of Renaissance actor-muso’s, luteing and recordering their way through the script (music by Paddy Cunneen) there’s HEAPS for your eyes (and ears) to be delighted by.
Watching the play as a jobbing actress, I couldn’t help but wryly smile at many of the references to modern-day theatre, the implication being that over the centuries, the business side of show hasn’t changed one bit. I giggled (and inwardly sighed knowingly) at the audition sequence, where hopeful actors, brimming full of dreams, line up to recite a well-known monologue and are dismissed after a mere two lines, and an interchange between the producers that went along the lines of:
“Is there any pay for the actors?”
“There’s a share of the profits!”
“But there’s never any profits!”
I couldn’t tell whether they were talking about life on the Tudor stage, or my own personal experiences on the 21st Century London Fringe Scene.
There were also wonderful references to that age old argument as to whether Shakespeare actually wrote his works, something that scholars and learned ones continue to bicker and grumble over. In the play (much more so than the film), Shakespeare is helped through his unyielding writers block by Christopher Marlowe, who gives him the plot and characters for Romeo and Juliet, plus practically pens the Shall I Compare Thee…? sonnet. Glorious also is the way in which Viola, our central female character, finds freedom beyond her shackles of gender and class through theatre and upon the stage. Played sensually by Lucy Briggs-Owen, Viola and Shakespeare’s (the helplessly dishy Tom Bateman) chemistry is at time guilty of practically exploding off the stage. HOT TUDOR LOVE.
There’s a wonderfully farcical element to the show, as we enter the play-within-a-play setting of the first performance of Romeo and Juliet. The evocative lighting (Neil Austin) and clever set design enable us to see glimpses of the action both front of house and backstage- at times it felt like watching a period setting of Noises Off.
The fabulous Cheek-by-Jowl team of Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod have done wonders in translating this crowd-pleaser for today’s London audiences. Silly, touching, witty, sexy, slick and thoroughly warming of cockles, I imagine this will continue to pack in crowds for a good innings. After all, it gives people what they want-comedy, love and most importantly- a bit with a dog.
Shakespeare in Love plays at the Noel Coward Theatre until 10th January 2015
For tickets, visit the website here, or call the box office on 0844 4825141