Romeo and Juliet
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Reviewed – 23rd June 2021
“The whole cast is excellent with thrilling ensemble scenes”
Love is in the air in Regent’s Park. Director Kimberley Sykes takes on Romeo and Juliet in the Open Air Theatre’s first production of the summer. And there are fewer finer places to experience the traditional coupling of English Summer and Outdoor Shakespeare than this superb park setting.
It is a fast-paced, energetic production. Sykes shaves off a bit of time – the opening chorus is gone and the ending is rethought – and races through the action without an interval.
The drama is set in a neglected Verona in need of urban regeneration with rubble-strewn streets and a fissure across the stage – the site of an earthquake eleven years previously. The Nurse (Emma Cunniffe) lays down a remembrance to her lost daughter Susan which is immediately desecrated by a gang of youths and hints at the violence to come.
The crack symbolises the division between the two families. On one side, the Capulets dressed in white; on the other the Montagues in black. It is an onstage human chess game, but this is speed chess and the pace is unrelenting. Sykes wants us to believe that the players take no time to think, no time to ponder on their next move. Decisions are rashly made and the consequences are tragic.
The backstage structure of four levels of scaffolding is further evidence of the decline of the city and provides great variety of height for the actors and, when the time comes, a sweat-inducing climb for Romeo to reach his Juliet’s bedroom. But this distance between the levels is not always a positive thing; conversations are stretched over too large a space and it is difficult to believe that the two lovers could have been struck down at first sight whilst masked and so extremely socially-distanced.
Subtle technical support means that every word of the text is heard and the actors are not required to over-project. The whole cast is excellent with thrilling ensemble scenes. Juliet (Isabel Adomakoh Young) catches the eye and when she smiles, it is pure sunshine. Romeo (Joel MacCormack) is a love-sick puppy, bounding up and down the stage, his softly spoken dialogue most convincing. Tybalt (Michelle Fox) is a chillingly cool Queen of Cats and her battle with Mercutio (Cavan Clarke) one of the standout scenes of the evening. Friar Lawrence (Peter Hamilton Dyer), with his wise words, is the master tactician and the sole participant in the story allowed to take his time.
There is humour in the production but the traditional comic elements of the Nurse are more downplayed than often. There is poignancy too: after each death, the actor stands – the spirit rising from the body – and observes the ongoing proceedings from afar, leaving an eerie empty space where their body had fallen.
Kimberley Sykes has intentionally created a breakneck speed production of this most told tale and some elements of the work are undoubtedly lost in this manner. But, outside in an English summer’s evening, I am happy to enjoy this reminder of Shakespeare’s great work – the love, the tragedy, the fights, the poetry – and leave a more ponderous undertaking of the text for the winter (indoors).
Reviewed by Phillip Money
Photography by Jane Hobson
Romeo and Juliet
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 24th July
Reviewed this year by Phillip: