Review: Shakespeare In Love

Shakespeare in Love - the Pranksters Theatre Company at The Electric Theatre, Guildford, March 2022

The Pranksters swept onto the stage of the Electric Theatre in a suitably sparkling production of this much-loved tale of the young Will Shakespeare. We find Will (Jeremy Gooding in fine romantic lead form) with writer’s block during the creation of his latest work, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. Worse, it’s been promised to two rival theatres – the Rose and the Curtain – and their owners are chasing for his script. Money is owed; the Queen is eager to attend (and demands a dog in the production); auditions are held for a succession of highly unsuitable Romeos… It’s the stuff of delicious farce and all perfectly handled by the ensemble cast.

Enter young ‘actor’ Tom Kent. The audience knows what those on stage do not – that it’s actually aristocratic Viola de Lesseps (Emily Rawlinson), whose passion to perform on stage when it was illegal for women to do so has led her into the classic Shakespearean ‘girl dresses up as boy’ device. Tom gets the part and cue the inevitable confusion, when Will and Viola then meet and fall in love at the ball where she is promised in arranged marriage to Lord essex. There’s a romantic believability between the two that keeps the audience rooting for them to the end. Philip Hutchinson as Wessex is a superbly subtle villain, smug and oily on the surface, with shocking momentary reveals of the sinister and quite terrifying. To have taken on the role with just a few days notice is remarkable.

Kit Marlowe (just a celebrity cameo in the 1998 film) is brought vividly to life by Dean Brewer when, as Will’s best friend, he attempts to help not only the course of true love but of great poetry run smooth. Phil Snell’s officious Lord Chancellor Tilney, in his yellow stockings, is a treat, as is every one of the cast, from Alex Gold’s young John Webster (showing a taste for the bloodthirsty even then) to the splendid Queen’s favourite Spot the Dog, a shaggy sheepdog created by amazing puppet-maker Sam Weems and operated by Philip Hutchinson (when not in character as Lord Wessex).

The final scenes are genuinely moving, with Emily Rawlinson’s note-perfect performance the emotional key.

Shakespeare in Love was as intricately woven as its cleverly choreographed dance and swordplay scenes, which moved the action along as they went, and as elegant as its fine Tudor costumes. The Pranksters are to be commended on one of their most ambitious and most enjoyable productions yet.

Fay Franklin