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Shakespeare In Love - The Little Theatre Review

Reviewed By: Constance Bole

Disclaimer: Ticket was gifted in return for honest review

Get ready to fall head over heels for a theatrical experience that will leave you breathless, besotted, and forever bewitched by the powerfully intoxicating combination of Shakespeare’s poetry and romance.

 

Shakespeare in Love takes the audience on a romantic rendezvous that combines the timeless writings of William Shakespeare with Marc Norman’s modernised telling which craftily combines the creation of a classic Shakespeare play with the inspiration for his next.

Nicole Collins and Ed Turner. Photo by Dave Morris

The play follows a young William Shakespeare (Ed Turner)at the start of his career as he faces writer’s block for his new play “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter, and Lady Viola De Lesseps (Nicole Collins), a young woman who dreams to be on the stage but cannot due to the Elizabethan laws. As Viola disguises herself as a boy in order to audition for Shakespeare’s new playa chance encounter between Will and Viola heralds the inspiration for the greatest love story ever told.
 
Director Steve Illidge’s vision brings the stage alive with passion, wit, and the sheer magic of love. His storytelling takes the audience on an enchanting journey through the Elizabethan era wherein he masterfully combines split-location scenes where actors appear both on stage and backstage at onceand his continuity in staging and the positioning of his actors is wonderful to see. The play has a continuous flow to it, aided by the decision to make the majority of set transitions a part of the scenes they are establishing, with Illidge commanding his players to bring on and remove chairs, tables and beds as they go.

 

The play opens with a half stage, allowing focus on a sole writing desk and ink pot in the Shakespeare house, established by the Tudor thatched doorways bookmarking the stage. Illidge makes great use of the set and scrims, combining levels, curtains and hidden nooks to allow the stage to fill and vacate as necessary.
 
Illidge clearly worked closely with Musical Director Grace Bale and Choreographer Carl Robinson-Edwards to create beautiful dances and seamless vocals which work to enhance this story of love on stage. The use of contemporary choreography, specifically in the final scene, left the audience chilled emotional. A truly exceptional finish.
 
Fight Director Sam White did an outstanding job at teaching the cast how to throw a convincing punch, and an equally excellent job at creating some thrilling stage fighting sequences.

John Bale’s costuming was an evolving tale which supportsthe modernisation of the production. The women, other than Viola, are in regal takes on modern outfits, featuring corsets over waterfall dresses worn with converse-like trainers – each in their own particularly bright colour – whilst the men start in more traditional garb – lace up trousers, shirts and boots – but seemed to transition into equally colourful jeans as the ladies’ dresses. My particular favourite were the almost-luminously green adidas trainers worn by Lord Wessex (John Moulding). Viola is seen in an eye catching sea foam for the entirety of the production, only swapping between a waterfall dress and a tailored jacket and turban to mark the change in gender, but always wearing the same trousers – this was a very intelligent way to suggest throughout that she was imposing as a man by having trousers on when no other woman did, and to allow smooth costume changes without needing to leave the stage, even if it was a slight reprieve now and then to rest the eyes from such a dazzling shade of blue.

The company of Shakespeare In Love. Photo by Dave Morris.

David Moore’s lighting design was a personal highlight of the production. The backdrop of the stage created early morning sunrises and late night moonlight, as well as thunderous weather and lightning strikes all with beautiful ombr├ęs and seamless transitions, and Tom Brooks sound design complimented this well. Brooks worked well to create a warm atmosphere to welcome the audience to the theatre with the strings of a Viol accompanying the low murmur of voices, and had strong supporting sound levels throughout the production.
 
The cast is led by the indomitable Ed Turner as William Shakespeare who spoke with clarity and diction, and was the sole performer that never wavered in his projection – a feat due to the inclusion of lines spoken upstage without the aid of a microphone. Will does not start as the most likeable character – one of his establishing moments sees him leaving his wife and two young children in order to follow fame and money – but Turner does an excellent job at redeeming him in the eyes of the audience – with a particular stand out moment in Act Two as he lets down his walls and lets both the audience and Viola in on his emotions. Additionally, Turner was excellent in his comedic timing and use of accents in a particularly hilarious sequence to start Act Two.
 
Nicole Collins stars opposite Turner as his romantic counterpart Viola De Lesseps, and brought undeniable charm and chemistry to the stage. From her opening soliloquy to her parting moments on stage, Collins brought wit, emotion and beauty in her performance. She balanced romantic intentions with Turner’s Shakespeare, along with feelings of fear and resistance to Moulding’s Wessex with compassion and empathy, never coming across as the overly privileged,unsympathetic woman she so easily could have. Collins has a particular talent for gutting the hearts of the audience with her anguish, and stitching them back together with her smile – an actress to watch.
 
Supporting actors John MouldingMax Mayer and Sue Dale brought wonderful characters to the stage, giving the audience a villain to hate, a witty, lovable young gentleman with exceptional comedic timing to support, and a truly lovable, excellently portrayed Nurse to love, respectively.
 
Particular praise to be given to Tom Young for his role as Ned Alleyn, and Ian Carr for his as Henslowe. From the moment he walked on stage, Young commanded it with his presence, brought charm and character, and naturally drew the eye with his stagecraft. Had he been present from the start, I would have mistaken him for the lead, and I hope to see him leading a production one day soon. Similarly, Ian Carr was not only a personal favourite, but an audience favourite too. He was on the ball both comedically and dramatically, and created a character the audience could root for even in times of unease.
 
Overall, the entire 28-strong cast truly was strong. There was not a member on stage who seemed out of place or out of character. It was an impressive display of stagecraft from all members, led by a brilliant dance captain in Nikki Favell and particularly strong, beautifully operatic singers Scarlett Hubbard and Rachel Wheeler.
 
The audience responded well to all moments of the play(though particularly Spot the dog, I must say) and left the theatre believing in the magic of love perhaps just a little bit more than when they entered.
 
Playing through to Saturday 8th July, I thoroughly recommend an evening out to see this exceptional performance and unravel the captivating tale behind history’s greatest playwright.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Shakespeare In Love plays at The Little Theatre in Leicester until Saturday 8th July. Tickets are available from https://www.thelittletheatre.co.uk/

Alex Thompson and Graham Muir with Rory. Photo by Dave Morris

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