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Reviewed: Shakespeare in Love at The Little Theatre

Playing til this Saturday.

Two men in Shakespearean costume look. One appears determined and the other thoughtful
Ed Turner as Will and Tom Young as Ned. Photo by Dave Morris

Leicester's Little Theatre recently staged a bold new production of the romantic comedy Shakespeare in Love, a play based on the 1998 Oscar-winning film of the same name that starred Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Given the scope of the production, Director Steve Illidge earns top marks for this bold presentation that encompasses dance, music, comedy, a large cast of nearly 30 – including the dog – and around the same number of scene changes.

The latter are achieved effectively and efficiently by employing several roll on-roll off furniture props on an otherwise bare stage. No need for fancy scenery here, other than the upper tier that not only mirrors the structure of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre but doubles as the location for the famous balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet.

Five dancers in modern shakespearean costumes coloured reds, greens and blues pose identically as though swaying with the sea, with longing looks on their faces
The company perform the closing Shipwreck Ballet. Photo by Dave Morris

All of which brings us to the plot. Playwright Will Shakespeare (Ed Turner) is suffering from writer's block. He is under pressure to finish his new play “Romeo & Ethel” but can find no inspiration. That is until he meets theatre-mad Viola de Lesseps (Nicole Collins) who is disguised as Thomas Kent in order to audition for a part.

A secret love affair soon blossoms and Will becomes inspired to write his greatest, renamed, tragedy.

The love affair effectively mirrors the play's main plot with a bucketful of Shakespearean quips, misquotes and familiar plot devices. The interplay between Will and Kit Marlow (Max Mayer) plays on the suggestion that not all of Shakespeare's ideas were original. Ned Alleyn (Tom Young) strides around in the role of Mercutio in the play and as the experienced member of the acting company bestriding the London taverns where most of the other cast members are recruited.

A young woman with long dark hair appears worried, shocked and upset, wearing shakespearean costume and sitting against a red velvet curtain backdrop
Nicole Collins as Viola. Photo by Dave Morris

Wessex (John Moulding) is a very effective “villain” threatening to disrupt Will and Viola's relationship and turn this comedy into a tragedy. Fennyman (Pete Bing) makes the most of his vital role as the Apothecary. A cameo from Nurse (Sue Dale) either side of the interval cheekily interrupts the audience's fun and demonstrates some clever interplay with the Lighting Engineer. And Spot the Dog (Rory) steals the show even though he is deemed surplus to plot requirements.

It appears that Will and Viola's love story is doomed. More Shakespearean plot devices – a ghost, a shipwreck, some proposed cross-dressing and character misrecognition – serve to suggest that all could end well (sorry, couldn't resist it) when Will pens his next tome: a new play for Twelfth Night.

Shakespeare in Love at The Little Theatre: Two men in modern Shakespearean costumes have a conversation while one holds a small white dog on a lead
Alex Thompson and Graham Muir with Rory. Photo by Dave Morris

You certainly don't have to be a fan of the Bard to enjoy this romantic romp. Those who consider themselves aficionados will take even more from the clever nods to Shakespearean trivia that are liberally spread throughout.

All in all, this is a thoroughly entertaining show that rewards the ambition of both theatre and the excellent company in staging such a demanding production.

It was clear that both cast and audience were having a great evening and you can't really ask for much more than that. Oh, and the dog seemed to be enjoying himself too!

See Shakespeare in Love at The Little Theatre until Saturday, July 8.


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