Review: Shakespeare in Love at Neptune | Arts & Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Review: Shakespeare in Love at Neptune

A bold, confident season opener.

click to enlarge Review: Shakespeare in Love at Neptune
Neptune Theatre
Sarah English as Viola and Allister MacDonald as Will in Shakespeare in Love.

There’s a good chance you’re going to enjoy Neptune Theatre’s take on Shakespeare in Love. Directed by Jeremy Webb, the play features a host of local Halifax actors, all of whom work to make this play a more comedic venture than I recall the movie being.

Allister MacDonald nails down the role of William Shakespeare, a writer toiling in relative obscurity. Fresh off a tepidly received performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Shakespeare is in the midst of a stressful predicament: He’s sold his next unwritten play, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter to two different people. Things are complicated further thanks to a crippling case of writer’s block—he’s unable to write anything of substance unless its spoon-fed to him by his friend and contemporary Christopher Marlowe (a charming Wayne Burns), or has a dog doing tricks. Toss in the extra stressor that his ragtag group of actors are less than impressive and Shakespeare’s a big ole ball of nerves. It’s not until he meets a prodigious acting talent named Thomas Kent (a wealthy elite named Viola de Lesseps in drag), that the curse is lifted. After quickly discovering Viola’s true identity, the two begin an affair, thus rekindling Shakespeare’s passion and giving birth to Romeo and Juliet.

Shakespeare in Love is a bold, confident season opener for Neptune. MacDonald’s Shakespeare is funny, witty, and passionate. Sarah English is sensational as Viola—her adoration for Will’s poetic prowess and dream to break free from her predetermined, misogynist environment is both nuanced and inspiring. English and MacDonald are a perfect couplet (sorry not sorry) and their chemistry radiates off the stage. The friendship between Marlowe and Shakespeare is another high point—the camaraderie between the pair becomes more meaningful as the play progresses.

Additionally, there are several standout performances from the supporting cast, who propel the play into great comedic territory without turning it into farce: Jennie Raymond delivers the grace and command to perfectly play Queen Elizabeth. Kevin Curran plays Viola’s charmless betrothed Lord Wessex with villainous aplomb, and Susan Stackhouse as Viola’s loving nurse is a solid fixture. Jim Fowler’s Fennyman, very proud of his tiny apothecary role, is also super-endearing. Watching all these characters pepper in quotes from future Shakespeare masterpieces are fun Easter egg moments that never lose their charm. There’s a lot of heart to be found in Shakespeare in Love and it’s great to watch this warmth coalesce onstage. If Neptune continues in this direction, I am very excited to see what’s coming next.
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