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:
Charing Cross Theatre
Reviewed – 7th December 2020
“The production’s plot and script is unfortunately rather heavy-handed at times”
GHBoy, directed by John Pashley and produced by James Quaife, follows the story of Robert (Jimmy Essex), a 35-year-old gay man trapped in a pattern of substance abuse and infidelity. When his boyfriend Sergi (Marc Bosch) proposes unexpectedly, Robert is compelled to turn back to his old ways, ignoring the advice of his best friend Jasminder (Aryana Ramkhalawon) and his mother Debbie (Nicola Sloane). Through attending sessions with the art therapist Simon (Devesh Kishore), Robert explores his past and begins to uncover a devastating truth buried in his unconscious.
The play’s title is a reference to GHB, a drug popular in the party scene and an old favourite of our lead and his on-and-off lovers (Sylvester Akinrolabu). However, GHB is also known as ‘date rape drug’ as it can render its takers unconscious in large doses. The use of GHB for such wicked means was thrust into the spotlight in 2016 when a man named Stephen Port was convicted of raping and murdering at least four gay and bisexual men after slipping them the drug at his flat. GHBOY takes inspiration from this infamous case with the inclusion its own serial killer, Benjamin (Geoff Aymer), who appears in several dream sequences.
The play’s strengths lie with its supporting cast. Akinrolabu is particularly strong in his numerous roles and Aymer is wonderfully menacing as the show’s murderer. Sloane also did well to step into her role with less than half a day’s notice after an accident involving the original cast member, Buffy Davis.
The production’s plot and script (Paul Harvard) is unfortunately rather heavy-handed at times. The show bounces between a plethora of themes ranging from substance abuse, AIDS, and male prostitution to familial death, murder, and sexual assault, and never really settles on any one topic for too long. For example, Robert confesses in an argument with Sergi that he is HIV+ but his positive status is never addressed again after this. The audience is also suddenly made aware that Robert’s father recently died though the impact of this on his life is not explored or shown consequently outside of this one scene. These themes are all very interesting and were worthy of further exploration. The result of this neglection is that when Robert’s repressed memory is revealed at the play’s end, it just joins another long line of issues and complexes.
The art therapy studio serves as the stage’s backdrop with easels and painting supplies strewn across shelves and the floor (Bettina John). Plastic buckets, two small ladders, and a rectangular slab are repositioned between scenes to make the required furniture, whether that be a bed, a table, or a seat.
There are numerous scenes which focus on the artistic and creative process – such as when Robert and his mother paint the interior of their family home – yet actual paint does not feature until the very final scenes. Though understandably messy, it would have been great to see the act of painting taking place, especially in one scene where Robert and Simon admire the former’s work and triumphantly hold up a disappointing blank piece of paper to the audience.
GHBoy touches on a lot of very important modern and poignant issues but does not spend enough time on any for satisfactory exploration. If this production were to establish a clearer message throughout, it could be a very powerful piece of theatre.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by Bettina John
Charing Cross Theatre until 20th December
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