'Shakespeare in Love' opens in London to mostly raves

'Shakespeare in Love' opens in London to mostly raves
Lucy Briggs-Owen as Viola and Tom Bateman as Will Shakespeare in a scene from the new stage play "Shakespeare in Love." (Johan Persson / Disney)

"Shakespeare in Love" -- the Oscar-winning 1998 movie that imagined the Bard's romance with a young woman who was secretly aspiring to become an actor -- is the latest film to be reborn as a major stage production.

The new play, adapted from the movie by Lee Hall, opened this week at the Noel Coward Theatre on London's West End. "Shakespeare" stars Lucy Briggs-Owen in the role originated on screen by Gwyneth Paltrow, and Tom Bateman in the title role that was played in the movie by Joseph Fiennes.

Hall had success at adapting another popular movie for the stage -- "Billy Elliot," which went on to become a hit on Broadway.

"Shakespeare," which is a joint production from Disney Theatrical and Sonia Friedman, boasts a pedigreed creative team in the form of director Declan Donnellan and desiger Nick Ormerod, who are from Cheek by Jowl, the British theater company known for its innovative productions of Shakespeare's plays.


The 1998 Miramax movie won seven Oscars, including awards for best picture, actress, supporting actress (Judi Dench) and the screenplay co-written by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman. Stoppard reportedly attempted to adapt the screenplay himself, but eventually left the project.


The new play opened in London on Wednesday for an open-ended run.

Michael Billington of the Guardian wrote that "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." While many of the best lines come from the movie, he said, "this is a play that stands on its own two feet as a heady celebration of the act of theatre."

Variety's David Benedict noted that the fact the "play's running time is half an hour longer than the film is largely down to Hall and Donnellan's understanding that theater, not film, is the best medium in which to tell a story about theater." Despite some weaknesses in plot and performance, he wrote, "chances are high for a Gotham transfer."

Charles Spencer of the Telegraph called the play "the best British comedy since 'One Man, Two Guvnors' and deserves equal success." The stage adaptation of the movie "seems to have found its true home. It's funny, often genuinely moving and generates a glow you could warm your hands by," he wrote.

Ben Brantley of the New York Times offered a dissenting review, writing that the "twee factor that was always lurking in the movie advances front and center" in the new production. "The imitation Shakespeare dialogue now sounds more of Hollywood manufacture than it ever did in the movie," he said.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT