Shakespeare in Love/Malvern Theatres

SHALL I compare thee to a summer’s day, erm erm… no matter how hard he tries, young Will just can’t complete the stanza.

He’s got writer’s block you see. Fortunately, fellow writer and literary sidekick Kit Marlowe’s on hand to help out, and duly obliges by supplying the hook line.

This is the first hint that the Bard of Avon perhaps didn’t single-handedly write the entire English language. And as if to ram home the point that Shakespeare may also have been a plagiarist as well as a playwright, we later see Kit feeding his pal the right chat-up lines as he woos a star-crossed lover perched on her balcony. Sounds familiar?

Love-struck Will has provisionally titled his latest number Romeo and Ethel, but then cunning Kit has a word in his mate’s shell-like. As we know from Upstart Crow, writer Ben Elton would later take this gag to new heights, arguably making it far more amusing, too.

Nonetheless, this earlier incarnation based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard is still relentlessly good fun, all pushed along by some great period sounds courtesy of Paddy Cunneen, who gets right into the Tudor groove before you can say ‘Good Queen Bess’.

Pierro Niel-Mee plays the main man and is perfect as the desperately attractive poet who’s lost for words, a sort of Elizabethan Starsky to Marlowe’s Hutch, working their way through a 16th century buddy movie.

As for the old intriguer himself, Edmund Kingsley is everything you’d want to see in a man who may have lived by the pen, yet was destined to die by the sword.

Edward Harrison pushes the Richard Burbage role in right up to the dagger’s hilt, a puffling pant-kicking showbiz impresario more interested in the pulling power of the product than the words themselves.

But spare a thought for poor Ann Hathaway, ‘er indoors left back in Warwickshire. There’s no way she can compete with Imogen Daines’ Viola de Lesseps, a cross-dressing vixen who traps our country boy in a snare of his own making.

Shakespeare in Love runs until Saturday (October 27).

John Phillpott