Review – Shakespeare in Love, Noel Coward Theatre

Thursday 10 July 2014

-31148What’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..






32 Responses to “Review – Shakespeare in Love, Noel Coward Theatre”

  1. johnmmorrison7 Says:

    Phil I agree with most of what you say, though I was slightly more impressed. I think the comedy will develop as the show goes on. It certainly needs to lose 5 or 10 minutes and the R&J death scene should be suggested rather than played all the way through. We made the mistake of economising by sitting in the balcony so the sightlines were very poor. By the way, The Crucible lasts nearly 4 hours (!) at the Old Vic but is brilliant.

  2. Salvatore Says:

    Tom Bateman’s casting continues a pandering trend from producers who fear that punters will only accept a hunky heteronormative Shakespeare ie Fiennes, whereas in reality W. Shakescene was wimpy-looking and in all likelihood bisexual. Will the West End next stage the life of Stephen Hawking starring Rob Pattinson?

  3. Rick Graziano Says:

    Saw it tonight..we’ll mostly saw and a great deal of dozing off. Too bad because it has a super sharp and very clever opening scene followed by some other really memorable ones. And then…I was beginning to think it was intermission less. Here comes the doom…the second act is really a big dud. However, I feel confident that the team can pull it together once they get the audience reactions. They want fun, clever and magical night. So…give it. Great cast all around. Perfect leads. Cumbersome set with horrendous sight lines. Morbid lighting. Excellent wardrobe. RX…elevate the mood, lighten the spirit and lose a half hour minimum.

  4. garyhodes Says:

    Very fair review, and we agree with all. The show has potential….How on earth did it get this far without some OBVIOUSLY-needed pruning..?..

  5. Peter Says:

    Guys I dont think it’s fair of you to review this during its previews . It doesn’t go to press until 23 July and Declan Donnellan is a very fluid director who could change a lot by then . The rest of the press will wait until then to review it and you should respect the fact that previews are work in progress . You are well respected reviewers and to get in early with your snide comments in my view is disrespectful to the acting process and unfair .

    • Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

      Yawn, have you seen the prices they’re charging for previews? I think we’re entitled to say exactly what we think. We’ve made it perfectly clear it was a preview…

  6. Peter Says:

    Well Phil, you might yawn, but if I was an actor I would be a bit miffed that you were blogging about my performance when I might be playing around with the character and judging the audiences response before I settled on it.
    Press nights are precisely that , for reviewers like yourselves to give us your opinions. Not in previews.
    I agree about the preview prices, in fact I think the whole theatre process is greedy …all this premium seats rubbish.
    Glossy programmes for a mortgage and upper circles should be much much cheaper . Now you’ve got me Whinging.

  7. Bill Says:

    Peter, some actors claim they get a part right only on the last week of the run – no actors think they do best on press night – so reviewing a preview may actually be fairer than when critics are massed together like an execution squad. Plus as we know, the Whingers (or Whinger) are not always given free passes and must invest their hard-won lolly in ticket purchases, so why not allow them to buy slightly reduced entries? Would you complain if the Whingers reviewed a show after sitting in the balcony for economic reasons instead of the stalls? Besides whenever they go, they are certainly more qualified and informative and vastly better writers than the egregious Tim Walker of the Telelaff !

    • Rick Graziano Says:

      Really? Hope our reactions shed some light on a troubled production. Better to get some early criticism to help it become what it should be….a hit!

  8. daveuk549 Says:

    I saw it on a Saturday matinee, I think the theatre should warn punters when you are booking rows c and d in the stalls you will get serious neck lock. It did spoil some of my enjoyment of the show but being that close to tom Bateman was a bonus and I thought he and the rest of the cast all gave great performances. The thing that I found most odd was the woman next to me went mental at the curtain call. It was good but her reaction was if she was planted there.

    • david Says:

      Saw the play today on the Matinee, excellent cast who really had fun with the piece. Costumes were brilliant and I thought the set was beautiful and very clever, however I think an actress of Anna Carteret’s pedigree should have had more as (QE1) and wonder why she didn’t get to join the cast on stage for the curtain call, her performance is worth as much applause as the rest of the cast.

      • John Says:

        On Monday 14th July, I went to see the play, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Fabulous ensemble piece and wonderfully staged.
        I share the comments above from David with regards to Anna Carteret as Elizabeth1, who gave a faultless performance.
        I was, however, sorely disappointed not to see her on stage for the company curtain call. She is a distinguished actress who deserves to be acknowledged along with everyone else at the end.

      • Peter Says:

        I havent seen it yet. But if Anna Carteret doesnt appear in the second half then equity rules allow an actor to leave at the interval and go home. Its her choice. She wants an early drink like the rest of us!

      • david Says:

        Anna has two scenes in the second half so her lack of curtain call is not due to leaving early.

      • Peter Says:

        ah. thanks for that David. Disappointing then.

      • Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

        She did a very queenly curtain call when we attended.

      • david Says:

        If you refer to the balcony piece then that’s not really the same as coming out with the rest if the cast as the actress rather than the character

  9. LibbyC Says:

    Saw the performance on July 15. Loved it- as did my 90 year old Mum. Whilst very close to the film (I thought Anna’s QE1 was just TOO Judi Dench) I found it a glorious romp in its own right. A little pruning would not harm, but overall the cast were excellent, the set worked ( I was in row e in the stalls, would not want to be closer) and the overall production a success. The leads -Will, Kit and Viola were all powerful and engaging.

    • John Says:

      I seriously don’t think that Anna Carteret was trying to impersonate Judi Dench.
      They both. Elizabeth I as history remembers her.
      Two different actresses.

      • Paul Griffin Says:

        Have to agree, definitely not enough of that frustrated emotion that Judi Dench managed to convey so wonderfully in the film. Just listen to her line in the film “I know something of a woman in a man’s profession. Yes, by God, I do know about that.” for proof of that.

  10. Andrew Lime Says:

    I found the play abit boring – the villain’s felt force and you felt Shakespeare had no real struggle. Nice set and costume though.

    • John Says:

      Interesting comment. I personally feel that Shakespeare’s struggle and frustrations were portrayed admirably and his break through to script Romeo and Juliet filtered extremely well. Of course the villains felt force, Shakespeare was trying to write a story and was defending his own ideas.

  11. Lisa Says:

    I cried at the Romeo and Juliet death scene, I loved it, because the actors were so wonderful. I can’t imagine cutting it out, it’s the best possible tribute to the real Shakespeare. One of the gifts of translating the movie to the stage was being able to have that scene play out on a stage, reminding you of what the performances of the play have meant throughout the ages.

  12. Paul Griffin Says:

    Having loved the film with its humour, colour and music I found it difficult to put that to the back of my mind throughout. The problem here is I think that is something that this production suffers from to. It wants to draw people in on the back of the film yet wants to try and distance itself from it too. Frustratingly jokes that work well on the big screen seem laboured here. That desire sees the shuffling of lines throughout the play, a much bigger part for the character of Kit Marlowe (as fleeting as Banquo’s Ghost in the film version) and a totally new score more in the Elizabethan style than Hollywood. Perhaps a transfer to the Globe would help where the closeness of the groundlings might a spark that is somehow lacking.

    • Andrew Lime Says:

      Maybe the play should be more rapped around Romeo and Juliet. Silly comment about Putney Bridge – that was one of the few funny lines.

  13. Viv Says:

    At the risk of sounding very, very sad …… My one big criticism concerns one of Viola’s/Tom’s lines; arriving late for rehearsal she says that she’s been delayed by traffic under Putney Bridge, the joke being that in those days the water traffic under the bridge was as horrendous as anything going the bridge, which I suppose is amusing. Except that Putney bridge was not built until the early 18th Century. Massive historical blooper.

    • Paul Griffin Says:

      Wouldn’t worry too much about things like that, the film is littered with deliberate historical “inaccuracies”, with the Colony of Virginia not founded until some ten years after Romeo and Julie was first published whilst were there really souvenir mugs inscribed “A Present From Stratford-Upon-Avon” on sale in the 16th Century?

  14. Says:

    I hugely enjoyed this stage version, laughed very hard and was also moved. Lee Hall’s script takes the absurd, anachronistic style of the film but makes it his own. The success of this is largely by giving the stage version more of the feel of a quality production of a Shakespseare play – beautiful period music, a brilliant bit of farce as Viola is shoved on stage to play Juliet and a fantastic supporting cast. Building the part of Marlowe to parallel the Romeo/Mercutio relationship (David Oakes is wonderful) works brilliantly. I loved the scene when Will shares his grief for Marlowe’s death with Juliet. Only the Act 1 long rehearsal scene needs trimming for me. The cast should now just relax and enjoy what is by any judgement an excellent new version of this piece.

  15. Danby Bloch Says:

    We really enjoyed the show. It worked better as a play than as a film. The sheer theatricality overcame much of the basic nonsense of the script. Beautifully staged and costumed, but it is in preview and there were some rough edges. A few cuts would help – the stammering audition and maybe some of the death scene. But I predict it will run and run.

  16. Lesley Hanscombe Says:

    We went last night and it was just fantastic ,how anyone can say it dragged is beyond belief .we will be going again .

    • John Says:

      YesI agree Lesley, I saw it last Monday. Anna Carteret’s portrayal of Elizabeth I was also very outstanding too! Pity she didn’t join the rest of the company for the final curtain call though.

  17. Glen Morranjie Says:

    Saw this yesterday, (Saturday 16 August,) – arrived 5 minutes before the box office opened and got a £15 dayseat for front row of stalls. Show lasted 2 hours 50 minutes and I thought it was fantastic. Can’t recommend highly enough.

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