Tag Archives: Tony Bell

REVIEW: Shakespeare in Love – Noel Coward Theatre, London

Based upon the much-loved 1998 movie, Lee Hall’s stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love follows Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s screenplay relatively faithfully.

It’s 1593 and our penniless hero Will (Tom Bateman), suffering from writer’s block, has sold his latest (as yet unwritten) work Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter to both Philip Henslow (Paul Chahidi) and Richard Burbage (David Ganly). Desperately seeking his muse of fire or muse of anything at all if it gets the play written, into his world and his heart comes Viola de Lesseps (Lucy Briggs-Owen) a young woman entranced by the theatre but prevented from performing by the fact that she’s a woman. Dressed as Thomas Kent she wins the part of Romeo and the heart of Will. But a life together can never be as the aristocratic Viola is promised to the pompous Lord Wessex (Alistair Petrie).


With both Disney and Sonia Friedman as producers it is no surprise that this is a lavish affair. Sumptuous costumes, twinkling candlelight, a stunning three storey recreation of an Elizabethan playhouse and a scene-stealing dog all add to the magical atmosphere. Where it all falls down is the absence of any real life in the proceedings, it all falls a bit flat and feels rather muted and subdued. It’s sufficiently entertaining but it lacks the vital spark of the Oscar-winning film. The casting of the leads doesn’t help either. Bateman’s Will succeeds better than Briggs-Owen’s Viola; he has an easy charm as well as being easy on the eye. Briggs-Owen seems to have been trained in the fish-faced, trout-pout and boggling eyes school of acting of which Keira Knightley was a proponent in her early career but which she happily has grown out of. The constant open-mouthed, wide-eyed delivery is annoying to the point of distraction and was much debated in the interval. Whilst both perfectly pleasant, neither has that extra something that’s required to elevate this, neither is sufficiently loveable or interesting enough for us to really root for them. Indeed the stand-out star is David Oakes as Kit Marlowe, whose deft touch enlivens proceedings in his all too short appearances


There is a massive ensemble cast of actor/musicians who have no doubt been employed to provide life and colour to the production but the stage is at times a cluttered muddle of too much going on for no apparent reason. The actor/musicians however do come into their own in the musical sequences which are beautiful and both evocative and atmospheric.

showbiz-shakespeare-in-love-lucy-briggs-owen-tom-batemanRunning at 2 hrs 40 mins at the preview showing I attended, the piece is inexplicably almost half an hour longer than the film from which it is adapted and it needs drastic trimming. Just when you think the piece is coming to an end it goes on…and on…and on to the point where you are willing the curtain to fall.

showbiz-shakespeare-in-love-original-london-company-lucy-briggs-owenBeautiful to look at and sufficiently entertaining – it is an enjoyable trip to the theatre but the frustrating thing is it could have been oh so much more – it’s all just a bit too nice and safe and inoffensive.


REVIEW: The 39 Steps – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh


Following the quite frankly unbelievable adventures of that most classic of English heroes, Richard Hannay, The 39 Steps is an hysterical romp based on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film adaptation of John Buchan’s classic thriller.

This irreverent show has its tongue placed firmly in its cheek, revelling in those particular 1930’s stereotypes: we have a dashing hero, some devilish baddies and a mysterious femme fatale. With pencil moustache firmly glued on and stiff upper lip in place, our hero Hannay displays derring-do and demonstrates daring deeds to defeat the dastardly baddies throughout this fabulous show.

Featuring a cast of four playing 139 roles in a mere 100 minutes, the breath-taking inventiveness never fails to entertain, and the break-neck speed ensures that there’s no moment where the interest falters. This is clever, warm, irreverant, laugh-out-loud funny and above all utterly entertaining.

Catch it if you can as it tours the UK.