Thursday, August 29, 2019


Shakespeare in Love.

 Based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard. Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall. Music by Paddy  Cunneen. Directed by Simon Phillips. Set and costume designer Gabriela Tylesova. Lighting designer Matt Cox. Musical direction Andrew Kroenert. Sound designer Kerry Saxby. Choreographer Andrew Hainsworth. Canberra Theatre. Canberra Theatre Centre. August 23 – 31 2019. Bookings 62435711.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare in Love is a sumptuous feast of sheer confection, exquisite in every detail, a masterpiece of theatrical invention and creation. With splendid costumes, a stunning set , fabulous lighting and  an outstanding cast to people the two hour traffic upon the stage, audiences are treated to an unforgettable experience of utter delight.
Claire ven der Boom as Viola de Lesseps.
Michael Wahr as Will Shakespeare i
Shakespeare in Love. Photo: Jeff Busby

It is hardly surprising to discover that this surfeit of succulent pleasure is the handiwork of director Simon Phillips. The production is stamped with his indelible talent for spectacle, opera, musical theatre and drama. Whether it be the glorious appearance of the troubadour minstrels, the tender love scenes between Viola de Lesseps (Clair van der Boom), and Will Shakespeare (Michael Wahr), the stately Pavane ball or the swashbuckling swordfights, Phillips directs with an eye for the theatrical dramatic, the theatrical comical, the theatrical amorous, the theatrical ridiculous and the theatrical entertaining. There is even the occasional moment when the theatrical sentimental has the power to move one to tears or the theatrical empathetic to arouse our deepest emotions. There is the delicious veneer of melodrama tempting us to hiss the villain, the obnoxious Lord Wessex (Daniel Frederiksen), sigh and sob  for the heroine, trapped in a loveless marriage and cheer the hero as he valiantly battles the villain to rescue his true love from an horrible fate.

For the Bard aficionado, the production, steeped in allusion and  reference, is an intellectual Shakespeare trivia quest.  Did Kit Marlowe (Luke Arnold) ) really help Shakespeare pen those sonnets of love? Was Richard Burbage (Aaron Tsindos) ), Shakespeare’s renowned tragedian, such a pompous jackass? Was it the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Tilney (Francis Greenslade) who inspired Malvolio’s exit line in Twelfth Night. Could it be true that Shakespeare suffered from the dreaded writer’s block and could the Dark Lady of The Sonnets have been none other than Viola. It’s a mystery shrouded in tantalizing conjecture.

Timing is everything in this historical rollercoaster of a play. Rapid entrances and exits propel the action with split second timing, carrying audiences along on a wave of fascination. Love triumphant holds the moment in its thrall, while love assailed is quickly dispersed  by the forces of conflict or comedy. Shakespeare is Love’s sleuth, and Shakespeare in Love is a love story. The love of the theatre is as vital as the love between two people, whatever their sexual preference. Central to the drama is the wager between Wessex and Shakespeare that the theatre can never portray true love .
Deirdre Rubinstein as Queen Elizabeth l
and courtiers in Shakespeare in Love.
Photo by Jeff Busby

Phillips’s company of actors would do the King’s Men proud. As Viola de Lesseps, Claire van der Boom gives an enchanting performance, thoroughly capturing our hearts as she struggles to assert a woman’s place upon the Elizabethan stage. There is alchemy in the chemistry between van der Boom’s Viola and Wahr’s Shakespeare. There is not a performance that falters. Cast and creatives imbue this magnificent  production with the very essence of the Elizabethan era.  
 In an ensemble as adroit as this, to single out individual performances from a bevy of bravura and ebullience is rather pointless. Each one has his or her entrance and exit and each person plays his or her part or parts to perfection. It is worth remarking on Deirdre Rubinstein’s imposing presence as the Virgin Queen as well as De Lessep’s complicit Nurse and I took a fancy to Peter Houghton’s Capulet Nurse, played in full blown coarse acting tradition as though he was still a pirate in Shakespeare’s original idea of Romeo and  Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter. And who would have thought that Tyler Coppin’s Wabash’s stutter could be cured by the magic of the theatre? Apologies to those unnamed, but there is not one among you who does not deserve the mightiest praise. And let’s not forget Spot, the dog, played with such charm and cute obedience by Daisy.
Comparisons are odious and it would be sheer folly to compare stage to film. Both are masters in their own right, but the MTC production owes an enormous debt to the screenplay by Marc Norman and the indefatigable Tom Stoppard. It is a gift that adaptor Lee Hall has grasped with aplomb and theatrical flair.
All in all, this is a show, the likes of which is a feast for the eye, the heart and the mind and I urge you before it is too late to beg, borrow or (in sotto voce) steal a ticket.