Its the film that earned Judi Dench an Oscar for an appearance that totalled only 8 minutes on screen, but it was a film that won the hearts of a nation (not to mention making swarms of ladies swoon over Joseph Fiennes in doublet and hose). Now on stage it is equally as endearing and engaging with a whole host of bawdiness and comedy to make you smile in a rhyming couplet of cheeriness!
This fictional tale of a William Shakespeare that is lovelorn and bewildered, suffering from writers block that is helped only by his good friend (and not rival) Christopher Marlowe and his love interest in the form of Viola De Lessops. It is she who so impassioned with the idea of a life in the theatre masquerades as a boy in order to play in the men only world of Elizabethan theatre, muscling in on the role of a lifetime in Shakespeare’s new play, Romeo and Ethel the Pirate Queen.
The Ethel jokes may become a little tedious and the implausibility of it all is only akin to the same level of implausibility in most of Shakespeare’s plays, but this is such an innocent and genuinely touching play with real moments of warmth and comedy that you cannot help but share a little of the love.
Set upon the elegant designs of Nick Ormerod’s slick Elizabethan timbered playhouse this is a spirited ensemble piece with vibrancy and energy exuding from all quarters of the company. Orlando James and Eve Ponsonby play the young lovers Will and Viola with an energetic warmth to them. Notable also, Peter Moreton as a sturdy Burbage and a comical turn from Thomas Padden as a black cab style Boatman amongst others. Joy Richardson brings one and all to her bosom as the Nurse whilst Suzanne Burden gives admirable starch to Queen Elizabeth.
Beautiful to watch and oozing the same warmth of those aging timber gantries that make the Globe-esque set so welcoming it is a pity that this hasn’t had a longer life in the West End.