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Shakespeare in Love
Noel Coward Theatre, London

Shakespeare In Love Review from 2014

Our critics rating: 
Average press rating: 
Thursday, 24 July, 2014
Review by: 
Libby Purves

Our latest review of this show by Mark Shenton on 6 Feb 2015 can be found here

It's a rom-com, imagining a moment in the young Shakespeare's London life: blocked and despondent, he glimpses a beautiful heiress, Viola de Lesseps, and discovers that she has already secretly enrolled herself in his company in boys' clothing for the part of Romeo (women, of course, being forbidden the disgraceful exposure of the public stage). She must marry a coarse aristocrat, and he already has a wife and twins: the un-smooth course of true love inspires him to transform the comedy "Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter" into Romeo and Juliet.

It could be schlocky, but it has a pedigree (even apart from lashings of good lines and a whole Juliet's tomb scene from Shakespeare himself). The screenplay for the film was co-written by Tom Stoppard, weaving in many, many mischievous theatrical in-jokes about producers, auditions, and how audiences love a dog (there is a real onstage dog, a hairy brown thing, and it has two good scenes and the line "out, damned spot"). Stoppard has wit but not always much heart; this stage version is adapted by Lee Hall (of Billy Elliott fame), who is all heart. And it is directed by Declan Donnellan, and cleverly set in a section of Elizabethan theatre (just like the Globe over the river) whose galleries double as domestic interiors; music, choreography and fights are beautifully done.

Best of all is the casting of Lucy Briggs-Owen, often a jewel of RSC productions, who has about her a humanity and a joyful brave humour which brings some proper life into Viola. Elsewhere there are great cameos (Colin Ryan as the morbid young Webster, Doug Rao as Alleyne the leading man, Anna Carteret as Queen Elizabeth) and a lot of fine jokes. But Tom Bateman as Will Shakespeare fails to charm, not least because the story makes him such a rat: proposing marriage to the trustful virgin Viola without mentioning his wife at home, getting all his best lines and alibis from his mate Kit Marlow and letting him down. It's a hard gig to make us like him, or believe in his genius. And there are not quite enough top laughs to justify it as pure comedy.

So I wanted to like it more than I actually did. As a love song to the theatre itself, though, it has honourable teeth. I liked Burbage's big speech at the end, and it is always gratifying to see a censoring Lord Chamberlain chucked down a trapdoor.


"This is the best British comedy since One Man, Two Guvnors and deserves equal success."
Charles Spencer for The Telegraph

"Many of the best lines admittedly come from the famous film. But this is a play that stands on its own two feet as a heady celebration of the act of theatre."
Michael Billington for The Guardian

"The backstage re-angling, the impassioned presentation of the death scene of Romeo and Juliet, and the haunting intimations of Twelfth Night, sharpened by the suggestion that the censorious Master of the Revels is a forerunner of Malvolio, are all masterly. It makes you feel grateful to be alive."
Paul Taylor for The Independent

"A few heavy-handed moments aside, Shakespeare in Love has a fizzy, infectious exuberance."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard

"Director Declan Donnellan’s show is a swooning, skittish delight, all the merrier for containing no top-flight stars."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail

External links to full reviews from popular press
Telegraph - Guardian - Independent

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