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:
Much Ado About Nothing
Wilton’s Music Hall
Reviewed – 13th November 2019
“Reaching inventive new heights without pretension, this production feels fresh, striving to relate to its audience”
Love is a fickle old thing that can make a person crazy. It can drive wedges between friendships and cause chaos all around it. In an exciting new adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, presented by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, such effects of love are all on display. Razor-sharp in delivery, this intelligent retelling is as joyously entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
A group of soldiers are on leave from war, and accept the invite of staying with Leonato, the Governor of Messina, and his family, for a few days. What ensues is a gush of mixed emotions as the heady concoction of civilian life, falling in and out of love, and trickery befalls on the party.
Director Elizabeth Freestone has done a tremendous job in finding some original ways of reimagining Much Ado, giving it fresh meaning. The use of filming from phones is an ingenious take on the original text. It firmly places the story in 2019, giving the play a chance to explore current issues such as fake news, online trolling and abuse through social media, which completely works. It makes the premise seem far more plausible for a 21st century audience, and proves that a 400-year old text still has relevance. The hilarious use of fancy dress (I won’t give away the costume theme) during the integral masked ball, is another moment of modernisation that Freestone has so brilliantly encompassed. Despite perhaps being used in other recent Shakespeare adaptations, the fancy dress concept is still clever and highly jubilant.
There’s an electric energy between Dorothea Myer-Bennett and Geoffrey Lumb as the conflicting lovers Beatrice and Benedick, both actors making the witty put downs towards one another fizz and crackle. Myer-Bennett in particular is on plucky form, doing complete justice to arguably Shakespeare’s best written female role. The whole cast should be applauded for really making the text their own, never shying away from originality or the unconventional, yet always making sure it is rooted in truth.
Freestone reveals that she aims for a 50/50 gender balance in her productions meaning gender-blind casting for some of the roles. Here, the melancholy meddler and villain of the show Don Jon, and the jobs-worth constable Dogberry have been given to female actors (Georgia Frost and Louise Mai Newberry) which fits naturally. As women are holding higher positions within the workplace and many more joining military forces, Freestone’s decision reflects this justly. Both actors revel in their parts, Frost bringing a jealous capriciousness, and Newberry an irresistible sass.
Music, as always with Shakespeare, plays a big part. Not only is it used in this production for transitions or decorative embellishment, but entwined within the story, utilised for comic effect and the like. Bethan Mary-James as likeable Margaret, the singer and waiting lady to Hero, is congenitally attached to a ukulele, who strums away to the annoyance or delight of the other characters.
Much Ado is heralded a comedy, but this recent offering from the Tobacco Factory really highlights the surprisingly darker, more tragic elements to the tale. Creating a much needed juxtaposition from the laughs and tomfoolery, the characters go on a believable roller coaster ride of emotions. Reaching inventive new heights without pretension, this production feels fresh, striving to relate to its audience.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Mark Douet
Much Ado About Nothing
Wilton’s Music Hall until 23rd November
Previously reviewed at this venue: