The stage adaptation of Oscar winner Shakespeare In Love has opened at London’s Noel Coward Theatre to raves from many of the UK critics but a big ho-hum from the New York Times‘s Ben Brantley, which could throw a wet blanket over plans for a Broadway transfer by co-producers Disney and Sonia Friedman.
“I’ve often attacked our modern mania for turning movies into plays. But, in the case of Shakespeare In Love, the transformation is fully justified,” wrote Michael Billington in The Guardian. “Even more than the original screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, Lee Hall’s new version is a love letter to theatre itself, and one that celebrates the way magic and mystery are born out of chaos and confusion.”
“Screen to stage transfers are so frequent and mostly catchpenny and cynical that the prospect of yet another tends to fill a critic’s heart with dread,” wrote Paul Taylor in The Independent. “But here there’s the elating sense that the material – with its rivalry between two public playhouses echoing the feud between the Montagues and Capulets – is revelling in its natural element in the theatre. And the smartest move made by the producers was to hire director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod, the world-renowned Cheek By Jowl team whose profound understanding of Shakespearean drama (its dazzling fluidity; its blithe refusal to respect the “rules” of genre; its mood-mingling suppleness) enriches a production that is filled with moments of sheer stage poetry as well as good-natured, effervescent fun.”
Not so fast, countered Brantley in the Times. Shakespeare In Love might best be described, he wrote, “as Shakespeare-flavored, in the way that some soft drinks are advertised as fruit-flavored. Like many such beverages, this show is moderately fizzy and leaves a slightly synthetic aftertaste.” While the film “brimmed with class and cachet,” but “to put Shakespeare In Love onstage, especially in the town where Shakespeare’s work was first produced, is to beard the bard in his den… The twee factor that was always lurking in the movie advances front and center.” At the end, he lowers the boom, calling the show overproduced and “Shakespeare for Sophomores.”
Dennis Crowley, a Disney spokesman, said the producers had no comment yet about if or when a Broadway transfer is contemplated. Disney’s latest Broadway venture, Aladdin, is currently doing sellout business at its Times Square homebase, the New Amsterdam Theatre.