Shakespeare in love and in trouble at Bard on the Beach

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Shakespeare in Love | Bard on the Beach | Mainstage at Vanier Park | June 12 – September 18, 2019

William Shakespeare (Charlie Gallant) has writer’s block. As he sits at a desk trying to compose a sonnet, he struggles: “Shall I compare thee…to an autumn morning?” On top of that, his new play is overdue and he owes new works to Burbage and Henslowe. It doesn’t help that amidst all of this he wants to outshine his rival, Kit Marlowe.

Viola de Lesseps (Ghazal Azarbad) has dreams of being an actor, but in Shakespeare’s time women weren’t allowed on the stage. She has heard of Will and admires all of his works. She decides to disguise herself as a young man and audition for his new play. Will follows her home to offer her the role of Romeo and ends up sneaking into a ball where he falls in love with her, not realizing that she is the boy from the audition.

Gallant and Azarbad have great chemistry, and the love story is captivating and authentic, if at times a bit over the top. In one scene, Viola, in disguise and playing Romeo, kisses Will who is playing Juliet in rehearsal. The kiss is held for a very long time and was a bit too exaggerated. But we do get the sense that they truly bond over their love for the theatre and great writing.

Will’s rushed audition for his new play doesn’t turn up the best actors; most are dreadful and it makes for some very funny scenes as they try to rehearse.  

Jennifer Lines is wonderful as Queen Elizabeth. As long as there is a dog in the play she’s happy. “Tragedy is all well and good,” she says, “but remember, I like a dog.” Spot (a role shared by Kingsley and Porkchop) adds some welcome canine energy to the stage.

The 1998 film of the same name was adapted for the stage in 2014, and it remains an enjoyable romantic comedy, especially for those who will appreciate all the references to Shakespeare’s works, including Twelfth Night and Henry V.

There are many historical references to the theatre scene during Shakespeare’s time, including the Rose and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. We also learn about the process of writing a play and getting it on a stage. A repeated sentiment is that they know it will all work out in the end, but how is a mystery. It’s the magic of theatre.

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