Shakespeare in Love

Date 20th April 2022
Society The Publican's Men
Venue ADC Theatre Cambridge
Type of Production Play
Director Sarah Dowd
Musical Director Naomi Rogers
Producer Emma Moat
Written By Based on a screenplay by Mark Norman & Tom Stoppard and adapted for the stage by Lee Hall


Author: Julie Petrucci

Saw the film and loved it so the question I asked myself as I made my way to the theatre was, would I love it when transferred to the stage?  The play tells of a fictional love affair between Will Shakespeare and a young would-be actor, Viola de Lesseps aka Tom Kent.  At the time Shakespeare was suffering from Writer’s Block during the writing of Romeo and Juliet. Several characters are based on historical figures, such as theatre owners, and many of the characters, lines and plot devices relate to Shakespeare’s plays or other dramas of the time.

The multi-purpose set was interesting with a large movable box platform which was used as a stage, a bed, with a super canopy flown in when needed, a balcony and the bow of a ship.  Various barrels and wooden boxes were in evidence, which again all served a multi-purpose.  The need for one scene slickly to run into another needs a rehearsal all of its own I would think and the cast and crew did as well as they could to keep things moving swiftly.  Maybe not having a blackout would have helped as sometimes it is quite interesting for an audience to see what is actually involved, particularly when a clever bar or bedroom is created.  The lighting and sound were very good and used to good effect throughout. The firework display particularly was excellent.

The music was appropriate and the singing very mellifluous and only once distracted from the dialogue and that was during the ferry scene. Musical Director Naomi Rogers did a fine job.

There were sumptuous Tudor costumes, especially for the theatre owners Fennyman and Burbage, the actor Ned Alleyn, and the Queen whose makeup and costume was pretty spectacular. Viola, as herself and Tom Kent, also looked very fine, as did Lord Wessex. 

High praise must go Chris Hudson as Will Shakespeare and David Sear as Christopher Marlowe. It was amusing to see the Bard struggling to come up with meaningful lines, both for his sonnets and his plays. His friendship with Kit Marlowe and indeed almost his dependence on Marlowe for inspiration when his mind was blocked was interesting. Both were absolutely excellent.  

Viola de Lesseps, the daughter of a wealthy gentleman, beautifully played by Kerry Hibbert, wants to act but it is against the law. However, disguised as a young man with a moustache and manly gait Viola auditions for a part in the play. Shakespeare meets her at Court sans disguise, falls in love and, in a very funny scene, helped by Marlowe, courts her. They, of course, fall in love and Shakespeare’s writer’s block vanishes.

Without exception the main characters gave really strong performances. 

The interaction between the owner of the Rose theatre, Philip Henslowe (Peter Crussell) and Hugh Fennyman (Paul Coghlan) who financed the productions the Rose put on was very interesting.  Richard Burbage (Richard Dodd) is an actor who also owns the Curtain Theatre. He is a rival to Henslowe and gets very angry when Henslowe is given Shakespeare’s new play to put on. Robust performances from these three impresarios.

Ned Alleyn (Rob Barton) was one of the great London actors of his day, and is hired to play the role of Mercutio. Barton imbued him with a strong personality and had the necessary stage presence to suggest his success at that time. Another fine performance came from Tim Meikle as the pompous Lord Wessex, Viola’s betrothed. 

A nice regal performance from Kate Nolan as Queen Elizabeth, who evidently loved the theatre and also dogs, hence the inclusion of the Dog, (Teddy Moat who never missed an entrance and was wonderfully vocal when taking his curtain call). Finlay Fordham played the young lad John Webster with great panache, revelling in his gruesome descriptions and holding his own among the mega experience of the other cast members. We will no doubt be seeing much more of this young man as time goes by. 

With a twenty strong cast - strong being the operative word here - I can’t list them all. Everyone played their part(s) and played them well, there were no weak links. A truly ensemble effort. 

Director Sarah Dowd obviously relishes a challenge, one which she rose to with this lively, well-directed, imaginative production ensuring The Publican’s Men provided a great evening’s entertainment.