Critics fall for Shakespeare in Love
Lee Hall's adaptation of the 1998 film, which stars Tom Bateman and Lucy Briggs-Owen, opened at the Noel Coward Theatre last night
…John Madden's Oscar-winning 1998 film… really belonged in the theatre in the first place… There are jokes galore… there is no denying the narrative pull, or the incidental pleasures of eavesdropping on auditions, rehearsals and backstage disasters… The film was first mooted before Shakespeare's Globe opened on the South Bank and there's a sense that the play has been trumped not only by the Globe itself (the company jig at the end looks like an almost routine homage) but also by the cheeky Globe style… Spirited is the only word for Briggs-Owen's Viola. She and Bateman's hunky, good-looking Will… David Ganly huffs and puffs as Richard Burbage... Abigail McKern skitters about as a rosy-cheeked Nurse and Colin Ryan stutters gloriously into life as John Webster.
…Lee Hall's adaptation preserves the wit of the original screenplay… while adding some zest of its own. And director Declan Donnellan infuses everything with warmth and high spirits… there's an easy chemistry between the tousled, rather earnest Bateman and Lucy Briggs-Owen, whose Viola sparkles despite at all times wearing a look of bewilderment… Christopher Marlowe, played by David Oakes as a twinkling charmer… There's quick-witted support from Paul Chahidi… Ferdy Roberts… and Colin Ryan as a wannabe actor… The production begins energetically but sometimes seems encumbered by its lavishness, losing momentum in its second half… Yet there are rich laughs, flickers of mischief and peachy spurts of surrealism. A few heavy-handed moments aside, Shakespeare in Love has a fizzy, infectious exuberance.
…in Lee Hall's delightful stage adaptation the piece seems to have found its true home. It's funny, often genuinely moving and generates a glow you could warm your hands by. You can feel the audience getting behind the piece from the start… It's got the lot… and it sends up the theatre something rotten while simultaneously delighting in it… Tom Bateman is a handsome, virile Shakespeare… Lucy Briggs-Owen proves an enchanting, sexy delight… Paul Chahidi is a comic joy… There is a cracking performance from Ferdy Roberts as the ruthless moneyman Fennyman… outstanding work too from David Oakes as a suave Marlowe… This is the best British comedy since One Man, Two Guvnors and deserves equal success.
…here there's the elating sense that the material – with its rivalry between two public playhouses echoing the feud between the Montagues and Capulets – is revelling in it natural element in the theatre. And the smartest move made by the producers was to hire director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod… whose profound understanding of Shakespearean drama enriches a production that is filled with moments of sheer stage poetry as well as good-natured, effervescent fun… Throughout there's a zestful rejoicing in the non-literal nature of theatre and the collective story-telling powers of a company… There's sizzling chemistry between Tom Bateman and Lucy Briggs-Owen…
…Lee Hall's new version is a love letter to theatre itself… the skill of Hall's script lies in having it both ways… Just occasionally, the play becomes archly knowing… But, for the most part, the play manages to be witty and warm-hearted at the same time… it is the masterly direction and design by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod that vindicates the decision to adapt the piece for the stage… Lucy Briggs-Owen is especially memorable as the shape-shifting Viola… there is strong support from David Oakes… Ferdy Roberts… Paul Chahidi… and Anna Carteret… 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.