Shakespeare in Love – reviews of 'joyous' West End staging

Oscar-winning historical rom-com finds its true home in Lee Hall's delightful stage version, say critics

Tome Bateman in Shakespeare in Love
(Image credit: Johan Persson)

What you need to know

A new stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love has opened at the Noel Coward Theatre, West End. Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) has written this new stage version of the Oscar-winning 1998 film by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard.

Like the movie, the play depicts a young Will Shakespeare suffering from writer's block until he meets the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant, Viola De Lesseps. As he falls in love, he is inspired to write Romeo and Juliet, unaware that Viola is also disguised as a boy actor in his company.

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Declan Donnellan (from Cheek By Jowl) directs a cast starring Tom Bateman and Lucy Briggs-Owen. Runs until 25 October.

What the critics like

This "joyous stage adaptation" of the movie revels in its natural element, the theatre, says Paul Taylor in The Independent. A profound understanding of Shakespearean drama enriches this production, filled with moments of sheer stage poetry, effervescent fun and a captivating canine cameo.

The movie was terrific, but in this "delightful stage adaptation the piece seems to have found its true home", says Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph. It's got the lot – a stirring love story, a prodigious succession of terrific jokes - and it sends up the theatre while simultaneously delighting in it.

Declan Donnellan's "vibrant and ingeniously fluid stage production" is better than the somewhat saccharine film, says Kate Bassett in The Times. Bateman plays Shakespeare with full-on impetuous passion without spiralling into hamminess, while Lucy Briggs-Owen is radiant and spirited as Viola de Lesseps.

What they don't like

It's a fizzy, infectious production that begins energetically but "sometimes seems encumbered by its lavishness", says Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard. It loses a bit of momentum in its second half and the knowing cleverness of the writing sometimes makes it feel like an anthology of in-jokes and familiar quotes.

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