REVIEW – Shakespeare In Love at Brum’s Crescent Theatre – as you’ll definitely like it

Probably the two most unlikely names to be linked together theatrically are Walt and Will or to give them their full billing Walt Disney and William Shakespeare.

It was you see the Disney Corporation partnered with Sonia Friedman that commissioned and produced the stage version of the Oscar winning movie ‘Shakespeare in Love’.

The movie, with screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard premiered in 1998 but the Disney co-pro stage play by Lee Hall didn’t happen until some 16 years later in 2014 at the Noel Coward Theatre in the West End.

The plot concerns how national treasure, tormented genius and all round bad boy  ‘Young Will’ came to write his greatest love story of all time ‘Romeo and Juliet.

This all takes place four centuries ago but substitute rappers, internet influencers and countries where women are told what to do and wear for playwrights, rakes and vagabonds and men only laws – add actors and producers and the only thing that’s changed is doublets for denim and swords for guns.

Shakespeare in Love is a fast moving romp with a huge cast and as such it must have two essential ingredients – a director who has an all-seeing eye and can move the action with panoramic vision plus a designer that can give an uncluttered space for that to happen in.

Michael Barry is a seasoned director of everything from Classics to Opera – here he wisely pushes subtlety to one side and aims his firepower at creating broad, free flowing action.

In a company this size there is inevitably a varied degree of ability and experience – Barry has directed within those parameters and concentrates on leveling overall performance rather than valleys and mountains.

Keith Harris has adapted a double decker design set of his that we have seen before and why not indeed? It provides a main acting space big enough to accommodate the whole company and gives free flowing actor traffic access to it. Plus there’s an easy access upper level, which can be anything from an intimate balcony to a minstrel gallery.

Behind this is a huge cyclorama where glorious black and white etchings, blue skies and moving clouds add time, depth and place.

Oliver Jones brings a touch of a rock god to his William Shakespeare, his on stage charisma much sighed over by both female and male cast members jumps the curtain line and makes him our happy hero.

Alisdair Hurst plays Wills mentor and chum Kit Marlow with warmth and restraint; they make the perfect combination.

Jack Hobbis makes much art of the long suffering owner of the Rose theatre, Henslowe – Brian Wilson delivers a delightful little vignette as the stuttering Mr Wabash and Mark Thompson is spot on as the money lending gangster – would be actor Mr Fennyman.

A stand out performance for me was James David Knapp as Ned Alleyn the superstar actor of the day – Johnny Depp meets Mercutio I say.

On the female acting front Jaz Davison gives Dame Dench a run for her money in a Queen Elizabeth tour-de-force, Bethany Gilbert is simply radiant as Viola de Lesseps would be actor and the object of Will’s desires and Pat Dixon-Dale is as delightful as she is protective as Viola’s Nurse.

Costume designer for the show Rosemary Snape (assisted by it seems, by every seamstress in the Crescent) has produced West End worthy frocks.

The period music from a bevy of musicians and vocalists under Gary Spruces awesome baton and some deft choreography again from the talented Barry put the wattle and daub between the scenes.

There are moments to savour, moments of belly aching humour, moments of tenderness, moments to delight and moments which will tighten as the run progresses.

Theatre about theatre performed and enjoyed by thespians – what’s not to like – I did immensely!

Shakespeare In Love runs at the Crescent until Saturday, October 1. Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.  

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