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Stratford Festival Sets Cast for 2016 North American Premiere of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE


Can a play show us the very truth and nature of the world's greatest playwright? As the Bard's legacy is celebrated around the globe in 2016 with Shakespeare 400, the boisterous new comedy Shakespeare in Love takes a glorious stab at doing just that. But with little known of Shakespeare beyond the dates of his birth and death - both April 23 - the fun is all in the imagining.

The Stratford Festival is thrilled to present the North American première of Shakespeare in Love, based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard and adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, creator of the stage and screen versions of Billy Elliot.

Olivier Award-winner Declan Donnellan takes the helm, as he did for the show's hit London West End run in 2014-15, directing a sensational cast, led by Luke Humphrey as the young William Shakespeare and Shannon Taylor as his muse, Viola de Lesseps, with Tom McCamus as Fennyman, Stephen Ouimette as Henslowe, Karen Robinson as the Nurse andSaamer Usmani as Kit Marlowe. Nick Ormerod will design.

"As a long-time fan of Declan and Nick - as well as of the work of Tom and Lee - I was delighted to see they had created onstage such a joyous and affectionate love letter to Will Shakespeare," says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino. "In this 400th anniversary year it seemed the perfect way to celebrate William Shakespeare. And it's an enormous pleasure for me to witness Declan's excitement at the prospect of working at the Stratford Festival with our extraordinary acting company."

When the show made its world premiere at London's Noel Coward Theatre in July of last year, the Associated Press wrote of the reviews, "Critics showered the play with accolades that will make the producers' ad campaign a dream. A hit. A very palpable hit." The Daily Telegraph raved, "A joyous celebration of theatre itself. Funny, moving and terrific." Also awarding it their highest five star rating, The Independent hailed it, "a joyous stage adaptation that makes you grateful to be alive." Variety acclaimed: "Directed with verve by Declan Donnellan across, up and down Nick Ormerod's versatile set, this grand stage-to-screen adaptation of Shakespeare in Love fills the stage with high-spirited comedy. A big-hearted hit." And The Guardian, praising the "masterly direction and design by Declan Donnellan and Nick Omerod," declared it, "a love letter to the theatre itself."

The film had also been supremely popular. It won seven Academy Awards, topped the box office earning more than $289 million worldwide, shot Gwyneth Paltrow to fame, and even inspired Prince Edward's title, Earl of Wessex.

In the Stratford production, Will Shakespeare will be played by Luke Humphrey, a young actor who quickly established himself as a leading player on the Stratford stage and beyond. He played opposite Martha Henry in Taking Shakespeare, portrayed a dashing D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers - and also did a rather memorable shirtless turn as a tango dancer in 2012's Much Ado About Nothing. His Stratford credits also include roles in The Tempest and Two Gentleman of Verona. Most recently he was seen as Spike, the hunky boy toy in Mirvish's Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike, and as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate at the Segal Centre.

As Viola, Shannon Taylor will once again demonstrate her versatility, transforming from her memorable 2015 roles of Margot Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank and the Priest in Oedipus Rex. She first appeared at Stratford when she was just 16, playing Liesl in the 2001 production of The Sound of Music. Since then, she has performed on many stages across Canada in such roles as Elsa in The Road to Mecca at Soulpepper, Anita in True at Criminal Theatre/Aluna Theatre and Mary Snow in Salt-Water Moon at Thousand Islands Playhouse, as well as various roles at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton and Talk Is Free Theatre in Barrie. She also spent a year in the English theatre company of the National Arts Centre, most notably playing Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice.

As Fennyman, Tom McCamus returns to the Festival fresh from his acclaimed performance as Leo in the new film Room (tipped as an Oscar contender). Mr. McCamus's recent portrayal of King John at the Festival was hailed by critics as both riveting and daring. One of Canada's most versatile actors, he has given Stratford audiences a string of powerful performances, including Iachimo in Cymbeline, Jim Casey in The Grapes of Wrath, Le Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons, Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, Vladimir in Waiting for Godot, and the title role in Richard III. His beautifully drawn comedic characters include Horace Vandergelder in The Matchmaker, Captain Hook in Peter Pan and King Arthur in Camelot.

Stephen Ouimette returns to the company to play Henslowe, the owner of the Rose Theatre, who is anxiously awaiting Shakespeare's latest script. Mr. Ouimette made a late-season return to Stratford in 2015 to play The Alchemist's lead trickster, Subtle, after reprising his role in the widely acclaimed production of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh in New York. In a long career filled with powerful performances, recent highlights include his heart-breaking portrayal of the Fool in last season's King Lear, as well as Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lucio in Measure for Measure, Estragon in Waiting for Godot, Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, Sam in The Homecoming and Hysterium in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

The Nurse, who aids Viola in her quest, will be played by Karen Robinson, whose most recent credits include Marta Boll in The Physicists this season and Ronnie Lee on CBC's Schitt's Creek. Her Stratford credits include lead roles in Harlem Duet, The Duchess of Malfi, The Swanne, Electra, The Flies and Agamemnon. At the NAC, her roles have included Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, Condoleeza Rice in Stuff Happens, the Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking-Glass and the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. On the screen, she has been seen in Slings and Arrows, Saving Hope, Lars and the Real Girl, and Ghett'A Life. She has won numerous awards, including the NAACP Award for 'da Kink in My Hair.

Saamer Usmani, a newcomer to the Festival whose credits include the TV series Reign and Nikita, will play Kit Marlowe, Shakespeare's friend and rival playwright. Mr. Usmani is a member of the Festival's Birmingham Conservatory and a recent graduate of LAMDA.

The production will also feature Thomas Mitchell Barnet as Sam, Brad Hodder as Ned Alleyne, Ruby Joy as Kate, Mike Nadajewski as the Boatman, Sarah Orenstein as Queen Elizabeth, Gareth Potter as Ralph, Andrew Robinson as Wabash, Steve Ross as Burbage, Tal Shulman as John Webster, Colin Simmons as Lady Capulet, Michael Spencer-Davis as Tilney and Rylan Wilkie as Wessex.

The director, Declan Donnellan, is renowned for his extensive work with Shakespeare, particularly through Cheek By Jowl, the theatre company he founded with designer Nick Ormerod. He is the winner of four Olivier Awards, for such productions as Sweeney Todd, As You Like It, and Fuente Ovejuna.

"The smartest move made by the producers," said The Independent's Paul Taylor reviewing the London production, "was to hire director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod, the world-renowned Cheek By Jowl team, whose profound understanding of Shakespearean drama (its dazzling fluidity; its blithe refusal to respect the 'rules' of genre; its mood-mingling suppleness) enriches a production that is filled with moments of sheer stage poetry as well as good-natured, effervescent fun."

The Stratford Festival looks forward to seeing these two artists make their mark on the new Canadian production of Shakespeare in Love, which will start previews at the Festival's Avon Theatre on April 29.

Casting continues for the Festival's 2016 season, which also features Macbeth; As You Like It; Breath of Kings; A Chorus Line; A Little Night Music; The Hypochondriac; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; All My Sons; John Gabriel Borkman; Bunny; and The Aeneid. For more information, visit or call the box office at 1,800.567.1600.

Photo by Don Dixon

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