BWW Reviews: SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, Noel Coward Theatre, July 2014

The Tudors are always fashionable. From Hilary Mantel's books (and RSC adaptation) to the Philippa Gregory TV series, apparently audiences can't get enough of Henry VIII and his tempestuous family.

The monarch at the heart of Shakespeare in Love, of course, is Elizabeth. She's ruling the country as young playwright Will attempts to overcome writer's block while dealing with his unhappy marriage; and tomboy Lady Viola de Lesseps wants to become an actor, except there are no women allowed on the stage and she has to marry the vile Lord Wessex for her family's prestige.

If you know the 1998 film, this is certainly loyal to it. Tom Bateman and Lucy Briggs-Owen are a delightful and feisty pair of lovers (Briggs-Owen is certainly a more convincingly outspoken and stubborn young women than Gwyneth Paltrow was); and David Oakes, as Marlowe, is marvellous in a much more sympathetic and well-written role than Ben Affleck took on.

The scenery is high, with two sets of balconies and walkways, serving for Viola's home, Greenwich Palace, and the theatres. (If you have a neck problem, don't go for the front of the stalls.)

And the music throughout is appropriately scene-setting - if you're a fan of countertenors, the place is filled with them.

The costumes are beautiful, with no expense evidently spared.

There's even an adorable dog.

With all of this there must be a downside - and the major difficulty with this play is that it's very long indeed. It runs for two hours 40 minutes, including a short interval; and I'm still not quite sure why it needs to be so extended, with the final scene of Romeo and Juliet - although beautifully performed - included in its entirety.

When a film is converted into a play or a musical, I always ask why it needs to be done, and what it's going to offer me that watching the DVD won't. I'm not yet quite clear if this play is intended for anything other than attempting to capitalise on a profitable tourist market. Shakespeare in Love is an excellently executed adaptation of a good film, and it'll be enjoyed by audiences in London - although I suspect it might be even more popular in the US.

Shakespeare in Love runs at the Noel Coward Theatre.

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