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Shakespeare with writer’s block – surely not? But that’s the scenario envisaged by screen writers Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman in their multi award-winning 1998 film, now enjoyably adapted for the stage by Lee “Billy Elliot” Hall.

With the same (as yet unwritten) play promised to two different impresarios, young Will is in trouble. His working title – “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter” - sucks, and he desperately needs inspiration. Enter a promising new actor – in the shape of wealthy young noblewoman Viola De Lesseps, dressed as a boy and destined to become his muse.

Never mind that she’s already betrothed to the decidedly unsympathetic Lord Wessex and that women aren’t permitted to act on stage – she’s determined to bring some poetry into her life before it’s too late.

The illicit love affair which ensues between Will and his leading lady in disguise becomes the inspiration for his great tragedy of thwarted love, but Declan Donnellan’s warm-hearted, witty  production is more joy than sorrow (though the unnecessarily protracted “Romeo and Juliet” death scene could do with some drastic cutting).

A tousled Tom Bateman makes a virile, likeable Will, competing with, and counselled by, David Oakes’ suave, knowing Christopher Marlowe, whilst Lucy Briggs-Owen is a determined Viola.

Played out on Nick Ormerod’s Elizabethan playhouse set and packed with references to other works, this romantic comedy makes for a great evening out – especially with a scene-stealing contribution from the delightful Barney in the role of Spot the dog. This shaggy (and somewhat anachronistic) labradoodle knows just how to deal with any unwanted character who threatens to spoil the fun and, much to the audience’s delight, does so with considerable aplomb.

Noel Coward, St. Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4AU

Tube: Leicester Square

Until 25th October 

£15.00 - £57.50 (+ premium seats)


Theatre: Shakespeare in Love
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