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'Shakespeare in Love' adapter revels in rave reviews in London

By Edward Baran

LONDON (Reuters) - The Disney-backed stage adaptation of the hit film "Shakespeare in Love" won nearly across-the-board rave reviews in London this week, to the relief of its creators who are pleased that their big gamble looks set to pay off.

The show, based on the 1998 Hollywood movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, received a standing ovation from its opening night audience on Wednesday at the Noel Coward theater in London's West End theater district.

With the backing of the Disney organization, which is behind money-spinners like the "The Lion King", and co-production by leading British producer Sonia Friedman, the stage revamp has gone straight to a commercial theater instead of having the benefit of a first run at a government-subsidized venue, as is common in British theater.

"Obviously something like this was such a huge production which is probably the biggest play that has even been put on in the West End," playwright Lee Hall, who did the adaptation from the movie script that was in part written by Tom Stoppard, told Reuters on Wednesday.

"We have got 28 in the cast and a dog, quite a complicated set, it's been years in the planning, and I am stunned to finally get here but it's wonderful to get such a warm response," he added.

Critics have been singing the praises of Tom Bateman and Lucy Briggs-Owen, who have taken the roles of young Will Shakespeare and the heiress Viola de Lesseps, who is infatuated with him and disguises herself as a man to win the male lead in his production of "Romeo and Juliet", in London in 1593.

"Miss Briggs-Owen is enchanting," critic Quentin Letts wrote in the Daily Mail, while suggesting that she might have to tone down "her panic-checking gestures".

Michael Billington, writing in The Guardian, called Hall's adaptation of the script "a love letter to theater itself, and one that celebrates the way magic and mystery are born out of chaos and confusion".

Asked what it was like stepping into a role that won Paltrow an Oscar, Briggs-Owen said: "It's like doing any great Shakespearean role really, you have to forget all of the baggage of all of the greats who have played it before you and this is no exception."

Bateman said he was thrilled by the opening night reception.

"We have been working so hard on it. We knew that we had a show that people enjoyed and I think we were just wanting, just for tonight, out of tradition, we wanted it to really go down well with everyone watching it and they all got up on their feet so we can’t ask for anything more."

Hall said he hoped producers would consider a move to Broadway if the play succeeds in London.

"I think that the movie is really loved in America and it could go anywhere that people love theater, you know, for anybody who loves theater it’s such a joy, so let's hope so."

(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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