Review by Judith Robinson
The Stratford Festival’s production of Shakespeare in Love presents a William Shakespeare who is rollicking, funny and playful. For those who find the playwright boring, stuffy and out of date, this is the play for you. This Shakespeare is not the stuffy genius taught in schools, who spoke in perfect rhyming couplets, adored by queen and country.
Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare, as seen in the 1998 movie, and Lee Hall’s adaptation of Stoppard’s screenplay seen here, is funny, down to earth and human. He’s often lost for words and writes bad material. He betrays his friends. He cheats on his wife. He’s lazy and doesn’t seem very bright. Photo by David Hou
A confused Shakespeare, played by Luke Humphrey, wandered about the stage never sure if he could complete Romeo & Juliet – looking to his friend Kit Marlowe, played by Saamer Usmani, to suggest lines, never completely completing his scenes, unable to find the right actors to play the roles, promising to put things into his play he had no intentions of delivering and pitting producers against one another.
He was not confident of winning the girl. Viola de Lesseps, played by Shannon Taylor practically had to throw herself at the insecure playwright to push him into action. The romance between the two actors was bumbling and ridiculous – but delightful. Taylor played a woman who wanted to take a man’s role in a straight-jacketed society. She was brash, presumptuous and bold – moving faster than Shakespeare could catch.
Madrigal players set the tone – performing spirited period music from a two-tiered balcony high above the stage. Musicians George Meanwell and Trevor Patt played an amazing array of instruments – guitar, cello, violin, recorder, melodeon, hurdy-gurdy, tin whistle, trombone and percussion as choristers sang lovely lyrical melodies composed by Paddy Cunneen, performed from the balconies and the wings – in counter harmonies.
The English Renaissance also came to life with period dance sets, choreographed by Jane Gibson. Director, Declan Donnellan, made the production festive with fast-paced bar room brawls, back room bartering, sword fights, romantic interludes and secret intrigues. The whole thing was a whir of activity. There was an excellent use of space. The actors often faced away from the audience, creating the impression the viewers were backstage at a theatre.
Nick Mormerod’s sets were simplistic yet powerful. Actors lurked in dark corners behind pillars of wood, spying on the actions in the courtyards below. The balconies moved forward and back to suggest various locations: a manor house, the queen’s court, a theatre, and a bar. The sets, costumes and props were all authentically Elizabethan.
This production is fun, enlightening and whimsical. Don’t miss it. Shakespeare in love is playing at the Avon Theatre until October 16th.