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Tom Stoppard and Lee Hall Talk SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE's Journey from Screen to Stage


Shakespeare in Love, starring Tom Bateman and Lucy Briggs-Owen, is currently in preview performances at the Noël Coward Theater in London and officially opens on Wednesday, July 23rd. But its journey to West End was not as easy as one would think.

A few years ago, Academy-Award winning scriptwriter of Shakespeare in Love Tom Stoppard agreed to write a stage adaptation of his honored and beloved 1998 Oscar-winning film. In a recent interview with the New York Times, he revealed that he quickly realized that the task was much too difficult; he feared that the play would be a disappointing version of a project that he (and audiences worldwide) treasure so deeply.

So Stoppard scrapped his adaptation and any hope of bringing Shakespeare in Love to the stage. But not everyone was ready to give up on the project. Disney Theatrical Productions and London impresario Sonia Friedman soon took over, hiring playwright Lee Hall to finish the job.

All parties knew that recreating the famous movie would be a nearly impossible feat, especially because the original cast (Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes) has become so renowned and iconic. "We had to completely demolish the film in our minds and then completely rebuild the story from the ground up by using our imaginations and an utterly theatrical approach," said director Mr. Donnellan.

According to an interview with Hall conducted by The New York Times, "about 90 percent of the screenplay - full of witty banter and words of love - has been retained." Hall also said that there are minor changes to the romance part of the plot, and that the stage adaptation is more focused on "this man becoming William Shakespeare and this woman, Viola, becoming a great actress."

In regards to impressing audiences to the same extent that the film did, Hall said, "I think it's always harder to adapt something that's good, because you can always make something that's bad a bit better. I was very aware that Tom and Marc's work was something that a lot of people loved. I wanted to deliver something that was more than the film - otherwise there's no point to this."

Hall, along with director Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod, decided that the best way convey Shakespeare's story was not through scenery, but instead through movement, lighting, and props. The New York Times reported that the set "resembles parts of an Elizabethan theater," another aspect that adds to the 1950s atmosphere of the play.

Stoppard made minor contributions during the rehearsal process and told The New York Times that "it got an instant standing ovation so I think Disney owes me one." If the play does well in the West End, theater-goers can definitely expect to see a production of Shakespeare in Love on Broadway at some point in the future.

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