Shakespeare in Love – Independent Theatre

Shakespeare in Love – Independent Theatre

Simply put, the Independent Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare in Love is just terrific, and you should see it.  You don’t need to know anything about Shakespeare or his plays to enjoy it, save that he wrote a lot a long time ago and it is still appreciated the world over.


Shakespeare in Love is essentially a romcom – something a little out of the box for Independent! – but, as with all good writing, there are several levels to it, and director Rob Croser’s habitually extensive, quality and well researched program notes focus a lens on them all.


Unusually, the play is an adaptation for the stage by Lee Hall of a screenplay by Marc Norman and Sir Tom Stoppard.  (It’s often the other way around – a film follows the play.)  Norman and Stoppard’s source material is first rate, as was the 1998 film, and Hall’s adaptation wisely preserves nearly all of it.


The plot is relatively straightforward, and is largely about fictitious events, but it underlines the fact that beneath the larger-than-life persona and reputation that Shakespeare was a flesh and bone mortal person like the rest of us and not immune from life’s foibles and vagaries. 


Young Will Shakespeare is experiencing writer’s block, and the play opens with the full cast in tableau observing Will at a table trying to write what we now know as his famous eighteenth sonnet:  Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?  But he can’t get past ‘thee’ and soon gets help from another writer whom we later learn is the famous playwright Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe.  This scene is comedy gold:  the text is wonderfully funny, but it can all fall rather flat if not acted well, and Eddie Sims in the role of Will is just wonderful.  Despite his relative youth, he is already an accomplished actor, and he gives an object lesson in timing, body language, facial gesture (oh his eyes!!), clear understanding of text (well drilled by the director one assumes), movement around the stage (full marks to both the choreographer Laura Bleby and the director), and articulation (never but never is a word lost).


Will is also woefully behind schedule in writing a play entitled Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter, for which he has already been paid.  With a title like that, and with all the high comedy of the ‘Shall I compare thee’ scenethe audience knows it’s in for a comedic romp and they are not disappointed!  Their expectations are met in bucket loads!


Rehearsals of Romeo and Ethel begin and Will casts budding actor Viola de Lesseps in a leading role.  She has disguised herself as a man because it is strictly forbidden in Elizabethan England for women to perform on stage, and Will is deceived of course.  There is a wonderfully comic scene where Will, still not knowing Viola is a woman, teaches Viola to stage kiss, but she, having fallen for Will, returns the kiss with unbridled passion, which unsettles Will!  Again, Sims’ acting skills make this all so very funny but, crucially, not farcical.  Sims understands what for many is an elusive lesson: to be truly funny, comedy needs to be played straight.


Rehearsals progress, deals are done, and shenanigans aplenty are played out.  Will’s romance with Viola progresses once he discovers she is in fact not a man, but their love affair is ultimately doomed because her conniving father has affianced her to a nobleman for a sizable dowry.  Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter eventually becomes Romeo and Juliet, and it goes into performance: the audience is now treated to a play within the play, and it is hilarious, because there is a problem. The lad who is playing Juliet – remember, women are not allowed to act – is well into puberty and his boyish voice starts to break and he can’t go on stage.  This creates great panic amongst the company, with ‘onstage’ actors being totally distracted by what is happening ‘backstage’. (It’s a bit like Michael Frayn’s wonderful comedy ‘Noises Off’, in which we see what is happening backstage during a play that is in performance.) David Roach’s wonderful set comes into full action at this point, and partially disassembles to create a stage on stage for the play within the play.  The cast rotate the set variously to create the illusion of both backstage and onstage scenes, and the mechanics and choreography of all this is so slick!  It all must be seen to be believed.


Georgia Penglis is very capable as Viola, and she and Sims are extremely comfortable with each other during intimate scenes.  They combine perfectly.


Fahad Farooque plays Marlowe and a wonderfully befuddled Lady Capulet in the play within the play.  He perhaps needs to play Marlowe with just a tiny bit more affectation to underline Marlowe’s latent homosexuality.  Indeed, some of the dialogue with Will could be the funnier for it without making it farcical or clichéd.


From the get-go, Julie Quick establishes an entirely believable character as Viola’s nurse, and as the whore Molly.  She too gives a lesson to less experienced members of the cast in how to create and sustain a convincing persona, as does David Roach in his two roles (Sir Robert de Lesseps, Viola’s father, and Hugh Fennyman). 


Chris Bleby, as Henslowe, is quite humorous as he crafts his dealings with de Lesseps and Fennyman.


Jean Walker is perfect as the aged Queen Elizabeth the First.  Her makeup spells Gloriana Regina, and her timing is just oh so precise.  Lovely to watch.


Keith Wilson plays a suitably obnoxious and unlikeable Lord Wessex.


The cast is rounded out with capable performances by Lachlan Bosland, Matt Hein, Greg Janzow, Ryan Kennealy, Michael Kranitis, Gabe Mangelsdorf, Ishan Rai, and ……… Maisie the Labrador!  An adage of theatre is not to work with children or animals, but Maisie may well be an exception, but she did almost steal every scene she was in!


The costumes were highly effective, and everything spelled Elizabethan England.  The costumes worn by the aristocrats were especially convincing.


A music underscore and some singing (nicely executed by Farooque) also enhanced the overall ambience.


The program doesn’t pay explicit credit to a lighting designer, but it too was effective, with judicious and eye-catching use of spots, and well sequenced cross fading.  However, too many glimpses of the back-stage areas and activity were evident that on occasion disturbed the suspension of disbelief.


Rob Croser and the Independent Theatre Company have got a hit on their hands.  I repeat, go and see it.



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This production was reviewed by:

Kym Clayton
Kym Clayton
Kym is passionate about the arts and has been involved in community theatre for more than 40 years. He has directed numerous productions across a range of companies and occasionally ‘treads the boards’. He is a regular reviewer for The Barefoot Review, and is a member of The Adelaide Critics Circle. He is a graduate of the Arts Management program at the University of South Australia and enjoys working with a range of not-for-profit arts organizations including Galleon Theatre Group and Recitals Australia.

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