Going out: The Shropshire lad comes to town

Tom Stoppard and AE Housman make an unlikely combination. Housman was a late starter who didn't achieve recognition until his sixties; Stoppard produced his first international hit at 29. And while Stoppard's plays juggle a dizzying array of intellectual and artistic ideas - from Bauhaus to quantum physics - Housman is best known for a naive pastoral poetry that pines for a land of lost content, blue-remembered hills and cuckoos.

So when Stoppard's biographical play, The Invention of Love opens at the National Theatre on Wednesday, it won't concentrate on the poet as dewy-eyed turnip-basher. Instead, his career as a classical scholar provides the focus for some reassuringly complex theatrics. (Indeed, Michael Bryant pops up as Charon, the river Styx's resident ferryman.) John Wood (above left) plays the octogenarian Housman, Paul Rhys (above right) his younger self, as he fails his exams, gets stuck in a dead-end job at the London Patent Office, and suffers from unrequited love for fellow student Moses Jackson (Robert Portal) who to the poet's eternal regret, emigrated to India, and married. The play is directed by Richard Eyre, and the opening night will be the last time he punches his clocking-in card as the National's Artistic Director. Trevor Nunn - who directed Stoppard's last play for the National Theatre, Arcadia - will be sitting behind Eyre's old desk from Friday. Now there's a touch of Stoppardian symmetry for you. (`The Invention of Love', Cottesloe, SE1, 0171 928 2252, previews from Thurs, opens 1 Oct). Matthew Sweet

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