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Review: Reasons to love Shakespeare in Love but not love Noel Coward Theatre's day seat policy

Lucy Briggs-Owen and Tom Bateman as Viola and Will In Shakespeare in Love. Photo by Johan Persson

Almost let this one go. Enjoyed the film but couldn't muster enough excitement to part with a substantial wedge when it opened in the Summer. Thank heavens then for @PolyG and her eagerness to see it and time to day seat*.

For those unfamiliar with the story its about a fictional romance between William Shakespeare and Viola de Lesseps. Viola's father wants to marry her off to a Lord but she loves the theatre and harbours a desire to tread the boards, an activity barred from her and all women for being unseemly. Meanwhile Will is struggling to write Romeo and Juliet and running out of time to produce the script for which he has already received an advance.

Tom Stoppard's fingerprints were all over the screenplay and Lee Hall's adaptation to stage is the icing on the cake. He has a strong track record for adapting from screen to stage and back again (Billy Elliot and War Horse to name two) and as a result it works brilliantly as a play, better than the film in fact.

With the Hollywood gloss and ultra starry cast removed (Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck etc) it felt more earthy, more authentic. As a play about a play and playwrights it feels perfectly at home on the stage. There are of course all the little staging details that you just don't get from a film.

During the final 'performance' of Romeo and Juliet, Nick Ormerod's design allows you to see both the fictional on stage and back stage areas at the same time, the action shifting swiftly between the two.

That final performance is, as it should be, the sum of all the plays parts; a delicious parody of the creative process and the egos involved, a traditional Shakespeare comedy of cross-dressing and a moving romantic drama. 

For those more familiar with Shakespeare and Jacobean drama there is the bonus of a whole raft of literary jokes including a long running gag about John Webster's love of violence and the macabre.

The superb cast is lead brilliantly by Tom Bateman and Lucy Briggs-Owen as the sexy and sassy Will and Viola. Shakespeare in Love is clever and funny and it actually made me care about Romeo and Juliet for the first time. And if that hasn't convinced you to go, there is a dog. 

It's booking at the Noel Coward Theatre until April 18, 2015.

* A word about day seats. Firstly they were very easy to come by in fact I could have rocked up at the box office at 10am or even after and would have been fine. But be warned ticket allocation is at the Box Office discretion and there wasn't a lot of love for the day-seater being displayed on this trip.

We were 'allocated' the very back row in the stalls, seats with a restricted view that only cost £17.25 normally (day seats are £15). We were warned about the restricted view and the view ain't great for certain segments of the play.  The set has two levels and when any of the action is taking place on the upper level you can only see the actors from the waist down, at best.

Front row seats are sometimes made available for day seats but these had been sold. These too are priced at £17.25 because the stage is high and you have to look up. Having virtually had to lay in my seat to watch Private Lives from the front row a few years back, I'm happy to sacrifice some neck comfort for a close up view. 

But I'm not complaining about the front row tickets having been sold what was irksome was that around a third of the stalls seats were empty including many near the front. Of course we moved forward at the interval to get a better view but the whole experience did smack of meaness on the part of Delfont Mackintosh. Bah humbug.


Paul Chahidi who plays Henslowe was in The Hour.