Screen-to-stage renditions may have garnered up a bit of a bad rep in the theatre arsenal, but it looks like Shakespeare in Love, currently running at The Fugard Theatre, is an excellent case to refute the theory. Director Greg Karvellas’ seamless direction of this production, which was adapted from the 1998 Oscar-winning film of the same name, is a powerful paean and injects the city’s arts roster with the a heady dose of pizzaz just in time for the festive season. Shakespeare in Love is sheer entertainment above all else.
Karvellas and his team have masterfully merged creative moments. And with enigmatic performances from some of South Africa’s top actors, it’s a taut and sophisticated production which complements Lee Hall’s well-written script. His blocking is superb, particularly with numerous mise-en-scéne segments throughout the show.
Shakespeare in Love is essentially a rendition of Romeo and Juliet laced with hints of other famous works such as Twelfth Night. We see the young Will Shakespeare falling for the an heiress, Viola de Lesseps, who has secretly enrolled herself as a boy-player in Henslowe’s company.As Will Shakespeare, Dylan Edy instantly vows the audience with classic, leading-man bravado coupled with a whimsical and impetuous spirit. Edy seems genuinely inflamed with love as he manages to hold steadfast next to a solid supporting cast.
Roxanne Hayward is afforded the most creative variety as she flickers between Viola De Lesseps and Thomas Kent. Her Viola rings a bit wooden and corny at times, even verging on annoying which, ironically, stays true to the celluloid counterpart played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Luckily the sizzling chemistry between Hayward and Edy as the star-crossed couple is perfectly matched. Hayward steps it up with her take on Thomas Kent. The evidently angsty nuances and conflicted duality outlines a clear scope of the elusive Kent.
But most of the standout performances come from Karvellas’ strong sense of ensemble with his supporting players offering some sugar, spice, and all things nice. Notable mentions include wing-man Theo Landey as the dashing and dapper Marlowe, who serves as the perfect antidote to the deliciously devilish Lord Wessex, portrayed by Jason K. Ralph. And Robyn Scott’s Queen Elizabeth imposes with an exhilaratingly majestic dominance while Darron Araujo’s campy take on the debt-ridden Henslowe seems the audience favourite. Understandably so, Araujo is simply a delight to watch in action. His comedic pacing, quirky body language and accentuated diction supplements each scene instead of overwhelming it.
Design director Paul Wills took a departure from the go-to Elizabethan playhouse in favour of a more contemporary, Zen meets Italian, minimalist set aesthetic – perhaps to allude the Romeo and Juliet component of Shakespeare in Love. This chic overhaul of The Fugard Theatre’s stage presents an all-wooden set construct complete with sliding doors, taupe tones, and small props which amplify the production value. Wolf Britz’s lighting direction followed a more understated approach and his moody lighting set the tone for each scene. While the traditional costuming looks fairly simple and straight-forward, one could tell Birrie Le Roux is afforded some creative liberty with Robin Scott’s Queen Elizabeth and slattern streetwalker characters. Think extremely ornate and lavish for the Virgin Queen, and a sloppy barmaid do with matching the bed head hair for the comical ‘lady of the night’.
Shakespeare in Love is at its core a schmaltzy romantic comedy, but in this case Karvellas just about ditched the saccharine trappings with his excellent pacing. The show is perfect for those looking for a less intimidating introduction to the beauty of Shakespearean theatre. But, for the most part, it succeeds beyond witty one-liners and concludes with a beautifully acted tragic love story. Definitely a must-see!
Benn van der Westhuizen
Shakespeare in Love is running at The Fugard Theatre from 10 October to 25 November 2017.