Shakespeare in Love

Written on June 6th, 2016

The Making of Romeo & Juliet

This stage play is a re-creation of the 1998 movie Shakespeare in Love, which is a delightful fictional tale of the writing of Romeo and Juliet – a true rom-com.  It is surprising that it’s taken this long to bring this movie to live theatre, but finally it’s reached the logical stage:  The Avon Theatre at the Stratford Festival.

William Shakespeare’s marriage is apparently not going so well – she’s back at her cottage in Stratford, while he is busy in London.  And he has problems.  He has an acute case of writer’s block and he’s promised a new play to two different producers.  He can’t even spout a sonnet:  As the play begins, he’s putting quill to paper, “Shall I compare thee to…..” but can’t come up with the words as a gang gathers round to help him over his blockage.Shakespeare in Love – On The Run 2016

Viola de Lesseps, a young woman who loves the theatre, longs to be an actress, but during Shakespeare’s time, only men could be on stage.  Thus boys played the female roles.  So Viola dresses as a boy to go to an audition and gets a part.  Eventually, Shakespeare learns that Thomas Kent is Viola and falls in love.  But she is promised to Wessex, who plans to marry her and then both of them will move to Virginia.

Shakespeare is working on a new play, Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter.  But eventually it’s changed from comedy and adventure to a romance, as Ethel is replace with Juliet. Add to this mix, the fact that Queen Elizabeth I likes stories with dogs, so there will be a dog.

And a clever dog he is, with a pivotal part in the plot.  His name is Spot in the story, and it gets a chuckle when someone says “Out, damn Spot.”  Or maybe we are just hearing Lady Macbeth down the street. Spot is well rehearsed and played wonderfully by Cole.

Luke Humphrey gives us a solid Shakespeare, at first stressed with his writing block, later a sweet romantic. Shannon Taylor is Viola/Thomas Kent, handling both personas well. Saamer Usmani is a confident and handsome Kit Marlowe, and pulls off being Shakespeare’s friend and competitor at the same time, making it believable.  Mike Nadajewski’s boatman is hilarious, trying to casually mention that he is also a writer.

But while there is a very clever story here, and a cast of fine actors, the play suffers from an uneven pace.  We go through some scenes too quickly to grasp the who’s who of characters, only to find it dragging in the next scene.

The set is interesting, at times a theatre, other times a stage facing the audience and also a back stage.  The balcony moves back and forth, depending on whether we are front of house or back stage, but at times, the characters seem to be a long way back, creating a disconnect with the audience.  Similarly, the four-poster bed seems to be set a distance from the audience.

Another item that caused me to be uncomfortable is the actor with a stammer.  Speech impediments are not funny and I winced when the audience laughed.  It would be much more humourous to simply give the character a big attack of stage fright.

Many of the great lines we know from Shakespeare’s works are bandied about as the story unfolds, so a Shakespearean aficionado will really enjoy this play.  It’s a witty script with clever language and a comedic cast.  Let’s hope they find their rhythm as the season continues.

Shakespeare in Love continues in repertoire until October 16 at the Avon Theatre, Stratford.  Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check

Photo: Luke Humphrey as Will Shakespeare and Shannon Taylor as Viola de Lesseps in Shakespeare in Love. Photo by David Hou.

Shakespeare in Love
Based on the screen play by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard
Adapted for stage by Lee Hall
Directed by Declan Donnellan
Performed by Shannon Taylor, Luke Humphrey et al.
Produced by Stratford Festival
Avon Theatre, Stratford
June 4 to October 16, 2016
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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