Skip to content

Shakespeare in Love

by on 16 March 2022

True Minds

Shakespeare in Love, the Play

by Lee Hall, based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard

Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre until 19th March

Review by Celia Bard

The film, Shakespeare in Love, was one I very much enjoyed, and I wondered how well the screenplay would translate into a playscript.  By the end of this production I was in no doubt.  Lee Hall has opened the door into the world of theatre and invited audiences to marvel at the antics of an Elizabethan theatrical company planning its next production.  Hall has produced a masterpiece that draws on an intimate knowledge of Elizabethan England, Shakespeare and his plays, and the rivalries that beset Shakespeare’s theatre, the Globe and that other theatre, The Rose.  The action in Shakespeare in Love, the Play, is often chaotic, but there is also love – both tender and vociferous, comedy that makes you chortle and pathos that draws on the heartstrings.  Expect also to be mesmerised by the Elizabethan convention of cross-dressing, mistaken identity and comic subplots.  Award yourself points if you succeed in identifying the number of different plays, characters, important personages of the period, referred to in this play. 

From the moment you enter the auditorium you are in the world of Elizabethan theatre.  Fiona Auty’s set, with shades of the Globe Theatre, is beautifully designed with its many entrances, seven on ground floor – one just wide enough for a four poster bed to be pushed through – balcony and a number of candelabras.   This set enhances the performances while the actors in turn bring the set to life.  Everything is in balance including Patrick Troughton’s lighting plot, which is most effective especially in the bedroom scene.  There is a great deal of music, often haunting, melancholic or frolicsome as the action demands.  Emma Knight’s choreography is well considered, graceful and well timed.  The costumes are sumptuous, very much in keeping of the period and indicate that Lesley Alexander for wardrobe has an extremely good eye for detail.  Dane Hardie must be congratulated for the sword fighting scenes, beautifully choreographed and at times quite breath-taking to watch. 

“Comedy is what they want.  Love – and the bit with the dog!”

Ben Clare, the director, is true to the spirt of the play and you feel his guiding hand throughout this production.  He directs with confidence and style and the many scenes flow smoothly and seamlessly from one to the next.  At the same time he succeeds in placing the necessary emphasis on the high and lows of the central characters.    What was particularly effective about the opening scene was the statuesque appearances of all the characters associated with Shakespeare’s play symbolically arranged around the back of the stage.  This is mirrored at the end of the production, but this time the actors appear with their backs to the audience denoting the end of the play.    

The cast of this production is blessed with many highly talented actors.  Sue Bell as Queen Elizabeth was a joy to watch.  You felt she had just stepped out of history into the 21st century.  She was commanding, skilled in pointing her lines and looked fantastic.  There was also a stillness in her performance that contrasted beautifully with the hustle and bustle of the action that surrounded her.  Her reaction to Daniel Wain as Burbage, on all fours suddenly crossing the stage in an attempt to take hold of Poppy, the dog, was priceless.  Wain’s performance overall was a masterpiece – ‘hammy’ though very much in keeping with acting styles of the times, and also able to display a full range of vocal skills.  Donald Wolfit, I suspect would have applauded this performance.    No less impressive was Charlie Golding as Ned Alleyn, the narcissistic actor manager of The Rose, who strode onto the stage with great gusto in his determination to take control of the script, but then agreed to play the role of Mercutio, which hasn’t yet been written.   Steve Taylor as Philip Henslowe, very much owned the role of theatre owner, an unwholesome character … the father in Steptoe and Son springs to mind!  

The Nurse played by Enid Gayle was hilarious, interacting amusingly with other characters.  She is an actor with a very good sense of comic timing.  Trine Taraldsvik as Christopher Marlowe played this part with conviction, and manages to suggest an interesting relationship with Shakespeare, abetting him in his attempt to find the words to woo Viola.  Well done to John Mortley for stepping in at a moment’s notice to play the role of Edmund Tilney, Master of the Revels, coping really well and reading script, which he uses as a prop.  The whole of the ensemble is just great including Sam (Anton Agejev) the young actor who normally plays the young female role, but whose voice is breaking, and Hugh Fennyman played by Nigel Cole, who is an investor, but who comes to love the theatre and is thrilled to play the part of the Apothecary. 

As Shakespeare, Joe Evans was just perfect, playing the young romantic whilst at the same time trying to rediscover his writing skills and poetic voice.  Evans has great physicality and is an actor who has the gift of connecting with the audience.  He succeeds in displaying the many layers of Shakespeare’s personality, masculine and artistic, driven and dreamlike, egotistical and yet unsure.  He is also an actor with great comic gifts as seen when acting out the role of a washer woman.  Later in the play he displays real grief on hearing of the death of his friend, Marlowe.    His opening scene when sitting at his desk, quill in hand, and attempting to write the script for his new comedy, Romeo and the Pirate’s Daughter, which is long overdue, is highly amusing.  This is an assured performance.

The relationship between Shakespeare and Anastasia Drew as Viola de Lesseps comes across as very real.  It is amusing, tender and poignant.  Drew’s command of the language is superb, especially in the scene when Viola proves to be the first member of the cast to be able to deliver Shakespeare’s lines with beauty, intelligence and sincerity.  It is very easy to imagine both Evans and Drew taking on the roles of Romeo and Juliet in the actual play written by Shakespeare.  Although very much in love with Will Shakespeare, there is a pragmatic aspect to Viola’s personality as well as a moral one, as seen when she decides to go ahead with her arranged marriage to Lord Wessex, admirably played by Paul Furlong, who is arrogant, chauvinist and villainous.   Viola’s character is multifaceted, and Drew well exploits all the opportunities offered by this role. 

One of the good things about this production is its bonhomie feel, come about by that special bond that is often achieved by a group of actors rehearsing together and sharing a common bond i.e producing something that will enthral an audience.  Not only does this band of actors include some very fine talented actors but they have been given the opportunity to work on a play script that is fun, poetic, and challenging.

The play, Shakespeare in Love, as performed by this TTC cast is energetic and enthralling and one not to be missed. 

Celia Bard, March 2022

Photography by Jojo Leppink, Handwritten Photography

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: