Review / Theatrical magic not to be missed

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“Shakespeare in Love”. Photo: Jeff Busby

Theatre / “Shakespeare in Love”. Directed by Simon Phillips. At Canberra Theatre until August 31. Reviewed by LEN POWER.

WHEN all the elements come together so well in the theatre, as it does in this
production of “Shakespeare in Love”, it’s magic and not to be missed.

Based on the screenplay by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman of the 1998 film of the
same name, the play was adapted for the stage by Lee Hall and first opened in
London in 2014.

The story depicts an imaginary love affair between William Shakespeare and a
young woman, Viola, while Shakespeare is writing and rehearsing the first
production of what will ultimately become “Romeo and Juliet”. Set against the
chaotic theatre scene of the Elizabethan period when only males could legally
perform onstage, the ingenious plot weaves a few facts with a lot of fiction to create
a believable world of the theatre of the time.

Recognisable quotes abound throughout the play as do references to the plays of
Christopher Marlowe and even Edmond Rostand. It’s all played with a modern-day
sensibility that adds an extra layer of fun to the show.

The play has been given a sumptuous production with a spectacular setting
designed by Gabriela Tylesova. The set is a marvel of design, detailed in a way that
we rarely see these days. It’s worth the price of a ticket just to see this in action.
The complex lighting design by Matt Scott is excellent.

The attention to detail by director Simon Phillips is masterly. It’s played at a lively
pace and the depth of characterisations achieved by his large cast is especially
notable. He draws us very cleverly into this world of theatre and makes us believe
every moment.

The ensemble cast all give superb performances. In the most prominent roles,
Michael Wahr as Shakespeare and Claire van der Boom as Viola are excellent.

Their comic timing is impeccable and their romance is believable and ultimately quite
moving. Deidre Rubinstein is suitably grand as well as unexpectedly streetwise as
Queen Elizabeth I. Luke Arnold is an attractively strong, swashbuckling Kit Marlowe
and Daniel Frederiksen is a nicely villainous Lord Wessex.

The fine music by Paddy Cunneen adds to the atmosphere of the period and is well
sung by the cast.

This Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of “Shakespeare In Love” is such a
memorable experience that everyone who sees it will remember it for a long, long
time.

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