Shall I compare this recast to a summer's day? It is less lovely and more temperate. With the eternal discussion regarding the merits of adapting films for the stage raging once more, I took the opportunity to revisit Shakespeare in Love and its new cast to see if this rose would smell as sweet with different petals.
Lee Hall's adaptation of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard's 1998 film follows the Bard of Avon (Orlando James) as he pursues a muse to cure his writer's block. When his eyes fall on Viola De Lesseps (Eve Ponsonby) he is inspired to write Romeo & Ethel the Pirate's Daughter, and when a young Thomas Kent arrives to audition for the play, little does Master Shakespeare know that his muse is also his Romeo.
Nick Ormerod's design is slick and sophisticated, transforming the Noel Coward Theatre into the timber-clad Rose Playhouse, and direction from Declan Donnellan is often inspired, including a lovely moment when Shakespeare and Kent/De Lessops take a boat ride along the Thames.
The original cast for this production was perfect, evidenced by WhatsOnStage Awards nominations for three of them (Tom Bateman, Lucy Briggs-Owen and David Oakes). The new cast however are more pink spray carnations than velvet red roses, still nice to look at but lacking the richness and complexity of their predecessors. First time around the death scene was as moving as I'd ever seen it in a production of R&J, a touching moment in an overall light-hearted production. Unfortunately now it seems rather comical. Fortunately, they've kept the same dog, Labradoodle Barney who continues to steal the show.
Shakespeare in Love remains a thoroughly enjoyable evening of high-quality theatre, romantic, moving and so very funny. There may well be too many screen-to-stage adaptations, but this story belongs on the stage and I, for one, will be sad to see it go.
Shakespeare in Love is booking at the Noel Coward Theatre until 18 April.