Bard on the Beach’s Shakespeare in Love

It’s hard to believe that 30 years have passed since Bard on the Beach humbly started with only one tent at Vanier Park. They’ve not only made Shakespeare accessible to the masses but constantly evolve and take new risks. This pivotal anniversary year is no exception.

For the first time, a non-Shakespearean work graces the main stage: Lee Hall’s adaptation of Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s Academy award-winning film, Shakespeare in Love

On a visit to Edmonton, Bard’s Artistic Director Christopher Gaze and Executive Director Claire Sakaki watched this production by director Daryl Cloran at the Citadel Theatre and invited Cloran to bring the magic of this story to the shores of Kitsilano.

Porkchop (as Spot), Andrew Cownden
[Porkchop (as Spot), Andrew Cownden]

The stage adaptation is every bit as rich and absorbing as the film, if not more so. Of course, the lines of prose may not be elaborate or nuanced enough for Shakespearean purists but this rom-com studded with dazzling performances and gorgeous costumes will surely tickle many fancies. Plus, there’s an adorable dog!

For those unfamiliar with the film, the story is an imagined snippet about young William Shakespeare’s life around the time he began an unknown play titled Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter.

Charlie Gallant, Anton Lipovetsky
[Charlie Gallant, Anton Lipovetsky]

Plagued by writer’s block, he’s besieged by the Rose Theatre’s debt-ridden Philip Henslowe and the unscrupulous Curtain Theatre’s Richard Burbage to produce plays for both of them.

His muse comes in the form of Viola de Lesseps, a young aristocrat lady who longs to be in the theatre. In that era, unfortunately, women were banned from appearing on stage (female roles were played by young boys).

Charlie Gallant, Ghazal Azarbad

Determined, Viola disguises herself as a man named Thomas Kent and auditions for Will but runs away when he shows intense interest. Mesmerized by her audition, Will follows “Kent” to Viola’s house where her father is preparing a party to announce her betrothal to Lord Wessex.

Charlie Gallant, Austin Eckert
[Charlie Gallant, Austin Eckert]

Will is immediately smitten when he sees the stunning Viola (out of drag) and steals a dance with her before driven away by Wessex. Eventually Will discovers her true identity and the two begin a passionate affair. However, the star-crossed lovers are not meant to be and their adventures lay out the groundwork for the Romeo and Juliet showpiece.
 
For this production to have an ounce of success, the behind-the-scenes personnel played key roles even more than the visible actors. The set is minimal but the ever-shifting props and rotating stage imitate the fast-paced frenzy of a movie shoot.

All this is made possible by the tight, precise stage management of Stephen Courtenay, the fluid, exciting choreography and fight direction by Julie Tomaino and Jonathan Hawley Purvis, and the perceptive, expressive stage lighting by Gerald King. Added to this is the emotional, sweeping soundscape by Mishelle Cuttler

Jason Sakaki, Joel Wirkkunen, Charlie Gallant
[Jason Sakaki, Joel Wirkkunen, Charlie Gallant]

Set and costume designer Cory Sincennes has forged a dreamscape of visionary elegance. The lavish fabrics and sophisticated cuts are a pageantry of colour and refinement. Sincennes went to town on Queen Elizabeth’s extravagant gown while unfurling a sartorial reverie of actors all draped in white. The open, uncluttered set pays homage to London’s original Globe Theatre, uniting the worlds of current and past Shakespeare.
 
Ghazal Azarbad, Charlie Gallant
[Ghazal Azarbad, Charlie Gallant]

Charlie Gallant and Ghazal Azarbad exude undeniable chemistry together. Gallant is a charismatic young Shakespeare, doubtful and hesitant, yet laden with potential and hope. Azarbad sparkles as an intelligent, vibrant noblewoman trapped in her role yet yearns to be free. The audience feels her warmth and cannot help but cheer for the lovers.

Chirag Naik, Jennifer Lines, Paul Moniz de Sá
[Chirag Naik, Jennifer Lines, Paul Moniz de Sá]

Although not a main character, Jennifer Lines is a commanding presence as Queen Elizabeth. It’s incredible how much reaction she can garner by the raise of a single eyebrow on her deadpan face. The comedic ingenuity of Scott Bellis makes the most of Henslowe’s repetitive lines while Anton Lipovetsky is a thoroughly obnoxious, smarmy Wessex that no woman should have to wed.

The surprise performance of the evening arrives courtesy of Kate Besworth as macabre youngster John Webster. She’s creepy, bedraggled and a bit disconcerting yet accompanies each love scene with song from above the balcony of the set. A surprising combination indeed!
 
Anton Lipovetsky, Susinn McFarlen
[Anton Lipovetsky, Susinn McFarlen]

Re-watching the film version of this play, I now more fully appreciate the genius and craftsmanship that went into reshaping this fresh, bittersweet piece for live theatre. There is so much foreshadowing, dropped nuggets and quotes from Shakespeare’s future works.

Daryl Cloran also directed last year’s runaway smash As You Like It; this production is sure to be a summer sell-out too. With romance, comedy, mystery and a playful pooch there’s something to delight everyone. Shakespeare in Love continues on Bard’s BMO Mainstage until September 18.

Photos by Tim Matheson.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

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