Our greatest-ever playwright gets comparatively short-shrift in the West End these days, apart from the occasional stage sighting of a star vehicle (Catherine Tate and David Tennant in Much Ado About Nothing a few years ago; Mark Rylance in Twelfth Night, transferred from Shakespeare's Globe; or James McAvoy in Macbeth and Martin Freeman in Richard III both at Trafalgar Studios). But then it's not as if Shakespeare is underrepresented in London: we have the summer glory of Shakespeare's Globe, of course, and there are also major Shakespearean productions announced for this year at the Barbican (Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet), National and Young Vic already.
So the West End can be forgiven for indulging in a bit of tourist-friendly Shakespeare-Lite with Shakespeare in Love, a stage version of the Oscar-winning 1998 film of the same name. This is a behind-the-scenes backstage (and bedroom) romp, adapted for the stage by Lee Hall from Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard's screenplay.
It's not exactly highbrow, but its a big, generous, warm-hearted hug of a play — in love with the theatre, with life, with love and with Shakespeare. Cheek by Jowl, a major classical company led by director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod, have regularly done Shakespeare plays, so they know his work inside out and pay alternately loving and cheeky respect to the man as well as his plays.
The production has been a West End hit since it opened last summer, and has now been re-cast, which allowed me the opportunity to enjoy it all over again. And the new company, led by the dashingly handsome Orlando James as Will Shakespeare and the beautiful Eve Ponsonby as the woman he falls in love with and who joins his acting company (despite the prohibition on women actors), is full of lovely performances.
But the show is virtually stolen from all of them by a shaggy brown dog — a favourite of Queen Elizabeth, apparently, when she went to the theatre! She'd have loved this show. And so did I.
For the original review from July 2014 visit here