Shakespeare in Love, Theatre Royal Nottingham, Tour, 5*****: Alan Geary


Shakespeare in Love: adapted Lee Hall


Theatre Royal, Nottingham

Runs: 2h 0m: one interval: touring


Approaches perfection in every respect.

Your jobbing weakness-spotter will have a hard time with Phillip Breen’s production of Shakespeare in Love. Adapted for the stage from the hugely successful nineties film, it approaches perfection in every respect.

Obscure actor Will Shakespeare is also a poet and playwright on the side. Trouble is he’s hit a writer’s block so his far more famous and successful friend, Christopher Marlowe, is lending a hand. And Will has also fallen in love.

Full of energy, vitality and wit, and some side-long looks at the audience, acting across a large cast is first-rate. Pierro Niel-Mee’s Shakespeare and Imogen Daines’s Viola are wonderful. As is Edmund Kingsley’s Kit Marlowe.

The live music, ensemble singing – and choreography, not just for dancing but for some excellent fist and sword fighting – are exhilarating. They’re done on a set with an adaptable revolving centre feature. It’s an attractive production: costumes certainly look authentic Elizabethan even if a spot of licence might have been used.

A superb text encourages the illusion that you’re listening to period dialogue when you certainly are not. And the play is littered with entertaining anachronisms – a Thames boatman says, “Ere, I had that Christopher Marlowe in the back of my boat the other day.”

The play is satisfyingly complex. Sexual ambiguities arising from male actors playing female roles on stage at the time spill over into the outside culture – at the time when Will is falling in love with Viola he still thinks she’s a young man. Snatches of dialogue he says or overhears are later found in his plays; and part of the real plot involving Will and Viola – the balcony scene for instance – are mirrored and paralleled in Romeo and Juliet. There’s compelling dramatic irony: we know more about their world and the significance of what they are doing than they themselves know.

And it’s an honest look at a world where women like Viola are effectively bought and sold, and debtors like impresario Henslowe (Ian Hughes) are routinely tortured.

A great production.


Will Shakespeare: Pierro Niel-Mee
Kit Marlowe: Edmund Kingsley
Henslowe: Ian Hughes
Fennyman: Rob Edwards
Frees/Wabash: Kevin N Golding
Lambert/Ralph: Joshua Richards
Richard Burbage: Edward Harrison
Wardrobe Mistress/Kate/Musician: Rosalind Steele
Sam: Philip Labey
Nol: Jonathan Blaydon
Tilney/Sir Robert de Lesseps: Giles Taylor
Queen Elizabeth/Nurse: Geraldine Alexander
Viola de Lesseps: Imogen Daines
Barman/Adam/Catling: Richard Rowe-McGhie
Peter/Robin/Musician: Toby Webster
Webster: Jazmine Wilkinson
Lord Wessex: Bill Ward
Ned Alleyn: Rowan Polonski

Director: Phillip Breen
Designer: Max Jones
Lighting: Tina Machugh
Composer: Paddy Cunneen
Sound: Dyfan Jones
Movement: Ayse Tashkiran
Fights: Renny Krupinski

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