Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Claire van der Boom and Michael Wahr - photo by Jeff Busby

Based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard
Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall
Directed by Simon Phillips
Melbourne Theatre Company
Canberra Theatre to 31 August

Reviewed by Len Power 23 August 2019

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.

Recognizable 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 characterizations 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 street-wise as Queen Elizabeth I.  Luke Arnold is an attractively strong, swash-buckling 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.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 24 August 2019

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.