What’s Shakespeare in Love about then?
Well, it’s about 3 hours.
We’ve probably used that ‘gag’ before, but since the West End is hooked on recycling movies and musical back catalogues we feel moved to join in with some gentle regurgitation too.
SIL, should you not know, was a popular and reasonably entertaining film that inexplicably went on to win 7 Academy Awards (you remember, Dame Judi won the Best Supporting Actress statuette for her 8 minutes of screen time as Queen E 1) and is delivered extravagantly to the Noel Coward in both production values and running time. The only brevity here comes in the form of a ceruse-faced Anna Carteret who drifts around oozing regality in the Dame J role in similarly and frustratingly brief appearances.
The economics can’t be far off those of a large West End musical, no wonder it’s taken a unification of Disney and Sonia Friedman Productions to hoik this onto a stage. But we must be grateful this wasn’t a musical as it would have lasted even longer, although there is a fair amount of that creepy high-pitched Elizabethan hey-nonny-nonnying to negotiate before we finally reach the end. There are 28 in the cast, that’s 28 people to costume ostentatiously, then there’s the densely balustraded 3 tier gallery setting (Nick Ormerod), plus a dog that attempts to steal every scene. Although even the canines’s performance, like some of the play, came over as a tad awkward.
Yes, this was an early preview, but it was not until 10.30pm that we finally emerged. Like the third Lord of the Rings movie it kept promising to finish but didn’t. Did we really need to sit through what appeared to be the whole death scene from Romeo and Juliet? Apparently we did.
The opening scene was promising enough. Young Shakespeare (Tom Bateman) is suffering writer’s block as he attempts to write R and J (current working title, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter). His creative constipation is alleviated when he finds inspiration in the high-born wannabe actress Viola De Lesseps (Lucy Briggs-Owen) who is forced to drag up as one Thomas Kent since the era considers it unseemly for women to appear on a stage. Comedic chaos ensues. Except it’s sometimes more chaotic than comic.
At this stage some of the heavily-peopled scenes in Declan Donnellan‘s production lack focus, it’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening and come across as a confusing rather than funny; the cast rush about all over the place like a Shakespearean flash mob and a take on the Juliet balcony scene falls flatter than Viola’s bound breasts. Despite the presence of some splendid gags in Lee Hall‘s adaptation of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s Oscar-winning screenplay it frequently feels forced (the Ethel and dog gags are diluted by constant repetition).
Phil’s ribs were decently tickled by an Elizabethan X Factor-type audition scene which featured some very agreeable mime (Mime? Agreeable? Did he really think that?) but the moment was ruined by a thought process that believes watching someone stutter is comedy gold. In an piece that needs massive pruning that should be the first thing to go. The film’s funniest scene, with the ferryman/water taxi, also proves to be the highlight of the stage version.
Bateman and Briggs-Owen are appealing leads and have terrific chemistry together though the latter needs to articulate more clearly, some of her lines were lost.
The audience, who had seemed mildy sedated throughout the show, when wild at the end. Curiously, those towards the back of the stalls seemed the most enthusiastic and the cast were forced to return to the stage again and again dragging it out even longer. Phil’s disappointment was not quite of Brazilian proportions but he was pretty underwhelmed.
This Love‘s laboured..