Review: Shakespeare in Love at Cambridge Arts Theatre when women were Bard from the stage

Imogen Daines and Pierro Niel-Mee in Shakespeare in Love at Cambridge Arts Theatre Picture: Pete Le

Imogen Daines and Pierro Niel-Mee in Shakespeare in Love at Cambridge Arts Theatre Picture: Pete Le May - Credit: Pete Le May

Like the film of the same name - and similarly the hit BBC Television series Upstart Crow, the stage version of Shakespeare in Love, draws a lot of plot and humour from women not being allowed to perform on the Elizabethan stage. This play has a slow and laboured start. Interestingly, it takes off when a woman takes the stage. When would-be actress, Viola de Lesseps (played nicely by Imogen Daines) starts reciting Shakespeare’s lines, the play takes life. I would start it from there.

Up until that point, neighbours you are tedious. We are never going to believe that Shakespeare stumbled over writing his sonnets coming up with the words half a sylable at a time.

Viola, dressed as a boy. is auditioning for one of Will’s plays, later they meet and fall in love. It’s complicated, of course. The fact of Shakespeare already being married to Anne Hathaway, who we never see, is dealt with. The marriage is dead apparently. So that’s alright, but they can’t get over the fact that Viola’s father has promised her to the darstardly Lord Wessex.

This play, like the film, is fun. A lot of Shakespeare’s lines are quoted in it from various plays, but mainly from Romeo and Juliet, though here it is called Romeo and Ethel because it still needed work.

We have a girl dressed as a boy and several boys dressed as girls. Philip Labey is particularly good value as Sam, whose voice is about to break which makes playing Juliet very awkward for him. Edmund Kingsley as Kit Marlowe and Rowan Polonski as the actor Ned Alleyn are splendid fun - really slick, accomplished and very funny performances.

Geraldine Alexander is wonderful as both a very regal and intimadating Queen Elizabeth I and in complete contrast, a cosy, slightly west country Nurse.

There is impressive music and lively dancing and altogether this is a rather charming, ensemble piece.

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Shakespeare in Love is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, November 10.