“Shall I compare?..Shall I..Shall..umm”
There’s nothing worse than writer’s block and, while it may have occasionally affected William Shakespeare, playwright Lee Hall has no such problem.
His stage adaptation of Shakespeare In Love, which opened at London’s Noel Coward Theatre last night, is an absolute triumph.
He has created a joyous masterpiece packed with comedy and sparkling dialogue that makes the production the West End’s hottest summer ticket.
There are lots of in-jokes – snatches from the Bard’s most famous quotes used as throwaway lines – plus exuberant performances from the whole cast.
But centre to it all is the dynamic performances of the handsome, tousle-haired Tom Bateman as Will and the effervescent Lucy Briggs-Owen as his star-crossed lover Viola.
Bateman, who secured his credentials as a romantic male lead while playing the lusty artist Rossetti in Lizzie Siddal, is sublime (and far sexier than Joseph Fiennes screen version).
The story opens in London 1593 and a young Will is struggling to come up with dialogue for his latest masterpiece Romeo and Ethel The Pirate’s Daughter.
Everyone’s waiting, including the queen, who wants a dog in the next production.
But the muse has deserted him and he turns to his friend – and professional rival – Christopher Marlowe for inspiration.
But one of his greatest fans is the beautiful Viola De Lesseps and a chance meeting sets about a chain of events that see her dress as a boy to audition for his theatre company.
Eventually the story of Romeo and Juliet takes shape with Will discovering the true identity of his leading “man” and falling in love – even though it looks doomed to fail.
There are some wonderful set pieces in Declan Donnellan’s immaculate production.
In one scene the couple take a water taxi and end up having the sort of conversation with the oarsman that Londoners today endure from city cabbies. Hysterical.
There’s a huge ensemble cast and it’s packed with talent. David Oakes is sadly under-used as the dashing Kit Marlowe as is Anna Carteret as the spectacular Queen Elizabeth.
But there’s comedy a plenty from the likes of Tony Bell, Paul Chahidi, Abigail McKern, Thomas Padden, Ferdy Roberts and Colin Ryan.
Alistair Petrie snarls as the brutish Wessex who claims Viola’s hand in a marriage of convenience and the darkly brooding Doug Rao is splendid as the Jacobean actor Ned Alleyn.
Nick Ormerod’s magnificent set, modelled on wooden theatres of the time, must have kept a team of carpenters in work for weeks.
The production also features original music from Paddy Cunneen which is haunting as beautifully integrated into the story.
Shakespeare In Love a rollicking good adventure yarn. And yes, there’s even a dog.
Running until October 25.