Among the many joys of the Oscar winning film Shakespeare in Love is the tongue-in-cheek thespian banter from writers Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard – reflecting the timeless allure of the theatre.
Happily, it remains intact in Lee Hall’s jaunty adaptation from 2014, opening at the Theatre Royal Bath ahead of a national tour.
Hall, and his director Phillip Breen, provide a heady mix of comedy and romance, as young Will triumphs over writer’s block (he is struggling over his new play Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate`s Daughter) courtesy of his love for aristocratic would-be-actor Viola de Lesseps.
Max Jones` magnificent Shakespearean playhouse set cocoons a love story echoing that of Romeo and Juliet itself, most poignantly when their awakening from their first night together mirrors that of the play.
Pierro Niel-Mee’s dashing Shakespeare is most telling when declaring his passion for his muse Viola, given a compelling contemporary slant by Imogen Daines in her disguise as a boy-player. In a large supporting cast, Geraldine Alexander (common sense Queen Elizabeth), Ian Hughes (cunning-as-they-come showman Henslowe), and Rob Edwards (ruthless moneyman Fennyman, who gets bitten by the theatrical bug himself) are a delight.
Composer Paddy Cunneen employs both lute and recorder for the lyrical Renaissance-style score, and the high velocity narrative slows at just the right moments to embrace the sheer beauty of the poetry. Sadly, though, in this production the stage pooch Spot is only heard off-stage – though he does still inspire the masterly rogue line “Out, damned Spot”.