Left – Claire van der Boom, Michael Wahr. Cover – Tyler Coppin, Daniel Frederiksen, Chris Ryan, Deidre Rubenstein, Francis Greenslade, Adam Murphy, Claire van der Boom. Photos – Jeff Busby
Shall I compare thee... Shall I compare thee... a young Will Shakespeare, quill in hand, is struggling for the next line to what is immediately recognisable as the opening words to one of English language's most beloved odes to love. Shakespeare is having a frustrating day in the office.
So opens the latest MTC spectacle, Shakespeare in Love. Directed by Simon Phillips, adapted for stage by English playwright Lee Halls from the original screenplay of the 1998 film of the same name. This is over 2 hours of what is essentially an old fashioned rollicking comedy referencing many Elizabethan theatre conventions and Shakespearean comedic devices.
There is a cross dressing protagonist, there is the bluster of inflated egos and the swash and buckle of exaggerated swords play for good measure.
Working on his much anticipated play Romeo and the Pirates daughter Ethel, Shakespeare is hounded by eager producers.
Suffering writer's block, it is in the beautiful aristocrat Viola de Lessups he finds his elusive Muse. While their love is true she is promised to another and her determination "to be a player" on the stage runs the risk of deadly consequences for them both.
Claire van der Boom is enchanting as the spirited Viola. It is not only beauty that captivates, she is a worthy companion to a man of many words and deep thoughts. Micheal Wahr, gives real energy and genuine heart to the creatively frustrated Shakespeare. He is athletic, at times cheeky and you believe him to be that universally admired master of word and sentiment.
Playwright Hall says "theatre like love in the play, is a great collaborative venture." The supporting cast are pitch perfect. Luke Arnold as Shakespeare's contemporary Kit Marlowe has all the swagger of a man on top of his game. Daniel Frederiken's Lord Wessex is full of hot wind and self delusion, the holder of Title but of no self awareness.
The dual roles of Nurse/Queen Elizabeth are delightfully portrayed by Deirdre Rubenstein. When Elizabeth enters the room all pretense and bombast are cut through by her knowing words and observations.
This Elizabethan world of flamboyant finery and fabric, of lavish linen ruffles is brilliantly realised by costume designer Gabriela Tylesova. Her set design suggests the simplicity of The Rose theatre to be contrasted with the sumptuous intimate space of Viola's bedchamber. It is a fabulous world of another time.
Shakespeare in Love has the wit and charm so worthy of its subject. "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"... You know it was always going to work out alright in the end so allow yourself to enjoy the manic ride!
PS Special mention goes out to Daisy. Who knew a dog could look so fine in a ruff!
Melbourne Theatre Company presents
Shakespeare in Love
based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard | adapted for the stage by Lee Hall
Director Simon Phillips
Venue: Playhouse | Arts Centre Melbourne VIC
Dates: 5 July – 14 August 2019