Shakespeare in Love at Chichester Festival Theatre REVIEW: ‘The Tom Stoppard/Marc Norman screenplay has been lovingly – and faithfully –  honed’

Play to film is a common event; film to play less so. Expanding a story from the confines of the stage is easy, while confining the expanse of film to the stage requires care.

Shakespeare In Love, at the Chichester Festival Theatre, manages it beautifully.

The Tom Stoppard/Marc Norman screenplay has been lovingly – and faithfully – honed by Lee Hall. Played on a single set under the intricate direction of Phillip Breen, the ensemble of 18 manage the difficult Shakespearean/modern English mix well. The parallel of Shakespeare’s love for Viola de Lesseps and Romeo’s love for Juliet is obvious but pleasingly cheesy and – despite the sad ending – remarkably uplifting.

Rich performances abound. Worthy of note are Edmund Kingsley as Kit Marlowe – friend, confidant and muse to Shakespeare – and Geraldine Alexander whose Elizabeth I is cheeky and joyous and clearly in charge of her kingdom. Top marks, too, to Philip Labey for his expert handling of a farthingale.

Imogen Daines’ Viola doesn’t wholly convince to begin with but comes to beautiful fruition in the second act and Pierro Niel-Mee’s Will Shakespeare is a joy. The relationship between the two – Shakespeare and Viola – is carefully crafted and nicely played.

The whole thing is staged against a backdrop of Elizabethanesque music, created live by Rosalind Steele and Toby Webster and hauntingly sung by the company.

The final montage is lump-in-your-throat beautiful.

A working-knowledge of Shakespeare will help with many of the gags, but a basic understanding of humanity will do just as well.