Ladies of Letters review: You'd be a fool to miss this top notch two-hander

Gwyneth Strong as Vera in Ladies of Letters.

Gwyneth Strong as Vera in Ladies of Letters. - Credit: Craig Fuller Photography

Sitcom stars graced the Norwich Theatre Royal stage on Tuesday for the first night of Ladies of Letters in the city and what unfolded was a delight.

The play is inspired by the hit comedy series that ran for 13 years on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, which in turn was based on the books by Carole Hayman and Lou Wakefield.

This new stage version, adapted by playwright Jonathan Harvey, stars Tessa-Peake Jones as Irene Spencer and Gwyneth Strong as Vera Small.

Tessa Peake-Jones as Irene in Ladies of Letters. 

Tessa Peake-Jones as Irene in Ladies of Letters. - Credit: Craig Fuller Photography

The pair have a whole host of stage and TV credits to their names, but are best known for playing Del Boy and Rodney's partners Raquel and Cassandra respectively in Only Fools and Horses. 

Despite not interacting directly with each other until the final scene, the chemistry between the fiery friends, who met by chance at a sherry-fuelled wedding, is seen through their quick-witted and sometimes scathing letters.

Gwyneth Strong as Vera in Ladies of Letters.

Gwyneth Strong as Vera in Ladies of Letters. - Credit: Craig Fuller Photography

The stage is split in two with one actress on either side in a giant neon envelope, with props popping up in the background to change locations, and both read their letters out loud in turn. 

Despite this format running almost the entirety of the two-hour show, the pace is kept up with razor-sharp delivery from two women who are masters of comedy. 

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Both Irene and Vera are retired and find they have more in common than they think and revel in outdoing each other in everything from recipes to men.

Tessa Peake-Jones as Irene in Ladies of Letters. 

Tessa Peake-Jones as Irene in Ladies of Letters. - Credit: Craig Fuller Photography

Importantly though, underlying this is a real admiration and respect for one another which keeps them writing letters and meeting up, though the latter is not shown on stage. 

It follows them over many years, through new grandchildren, relocating to the countryside and even a spell in prison after a protest over the removal of an M&S store goes wrong. 

Tessa Peake-Jones as Irene in Ladies of Letters.

Tessa Peake-Jones as Irene in Ladies of Letters. - Credit: Craig Fuller Photography

There are plenty of modern references too, including veganism and One Direction tribute bands.

Ultimately the show is a celebration of friendship and living life to the fullest no matter what age you are.

Ladies of Letters runs until Saturday, July 2 at Norwich Theatre Royal.