Tag Archives: Simon Nicholas

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet


OVO at The Roman Theatre

ROMEO AND JULIET at OVO at The Roman Theatre


Romeo and Juliet

“This is a fine production for a summer’s evening”


It is the time for theatre to go into the outdoors and the annual smatterings of summer Shakespeares in parks and gardens around the country. There is no finer setting for this than amongst the Roman ruins in St Albans.

Co-directors Stephanie Allison and Amy Connery show Shakespeare’s relevance today with a bold reimagining of the script and by transferring the story to 1990s Belfast at the time of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Live music from an onstage band – guitar, bass, violin – provide Irish-inspired tunes to help the mood (Musical Director Tommaso Cagnoni).

The set (Designer Simon Nicholas) is dominated by an iron derrick, daubed with graffiti and the words Peace by Piece. Stacks of boxes, pallets and sacks surround it, some marked helpfully with the word Belfast. This is a working dock and the lads set the scene by throwing sacks around before we see the first evidence of a city divided. A spunky Tybalt (Katie Hamilton) taunts the rather soft Benvolio (Lyle Fulton) and an eight-person rumble ensues. The fight is presented most effectively in the form of contemporary dance (Choreographer Felipe Pacheco), with shades of West Side Story. Lady Montague (Anna Macleod Franklin) lays down the law by talking of the Good Friday Agreement. Not in iambic pentameter but certainly within the spirit of the classic text.

We meet a sullen Romeo (Ryan Downey) clearly showing his depression, but even with the use of a head mic, some projection remains necessary, and Downey’s downcast mumbling sadly loses so much of his diction. This is to be a problem for much of the evening.

The Queen Mab story helps pick up the pace due to an energetic telling by Mercutio (Jenson Parker-Stone). Parker-Stone offers the performance of the night with fine singing and a spirit that lifts the production each time he is on stage. (What a shame his character gets killed off midway through the story.)

Romeo is broken out of his melancholy with one of the finest scenes – a three-part harmony rendition of Things Can Only Get Better – but the energy drops again for the Capulet’s party with little onstage movement. Even Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting and their sharing of the love sonnet doesn’t excite. Later the couple will perform a dumb show/slow dance (to The Cranberries poignant Zombie) as they spend their sole night together. Despite some good work from Francesca Eldred as Juliet, the couple together lack any sense of the joy of experiencing love for the first time. The spark isn’t there.

As the tragedy plays itself out, Ben Whitehead as the Friar, dressed in double denim, (Costumes Emma Lyth) exploits his inner Reverend Ian Paisley; Anna Macleod Franklin takes a second role as the totally loveable Nurse and beautifully sings Nanci Griffith’s I Would Bring You Ireland as the young lovers are married; and Faith Turner as Lady Capulet gives a fine performance with her argument with Juliet about marriage: the words truly coming from her heart not from the page.

This is a fine production for a summer’s evening. The use of popular music with adapted lyrics to illustrate the text works well – The Pogues’ Sally MacLennane is a fine example; the fight scenes are dramatically portrayed with energetic kicks and punches; and the adherence to much of the original words of Shakespeare, despite the transfer into modern day Northern Island, is praiseworthy. The production deserves to appeal to the widest audience.



Reviewed on 7th June 2023

by Phillip Money

Photography by Elliott Franks



Previously reviewed at this venue:


A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★ | May 2022

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Hedda Gabler


The Maltings Theatre


Hedda Gabler

The Maltings Theatre

Reviewed – 16th November 2021



“The direction of the ensemble is excellent with characters naturally filling and moving in the space”


OVO presents Ibsen’s classic tragedy from 1890 in a version by Richard Eyre.

The onstage action throughout all four acts takes place in the same set – the living room of Tesman’s house (Set Design by Simon Nicholas). Minimal furniture – a table, chairs, chaise longue, all rather unassuming, is enough to set the scene and the period. A backlit gauze at the rear of the stage allows us to see into the back room of the house and provides the opportunity for some effective and dramatic projection, not overdone. (Lighting Design by Matt Dugee). With the audience sitting closely on three sides, we are brought as witnesses into the heart of the domestic drama.

Before the start of Act One, we get a first glimpse of Hedda as she rises from bed and looks around her new home. It is clear she disdains all she sees except for a white piano which is at odds with the remainder of the dark furniture. A soundtrack of piano music here and in preludes between the Acts (Composer David Podd) foreshadows what is to come. A similar entr’acte at the start of Act Three is enacted by Thea – a near balletic scene, again showing prophetic movements.

The direction (Director Janet Podd) of the ensemble is excellent with characters naturally filling and moving in the space, never looking harried or hurried. All characters have their strengths and the fluency and pacing of the production will improve with further performances.

Hedda’s husband of six months, George Tesman (Lyle Fulton) with a near-permanent inane grin fumbles and bumbles about and is closer to buffoon than university professor. His nemesis Eijert Løborg (Diljohn Singh) is played in a gentle sweet manner. His final words to Hedda as he uses her maiden name of Gabler rather than Tesman is a rare moment of poignancy. Judge Brack (Marc Ozall), his hair black and brilliantined, is stiff and imperious, a dangerous sort to play with. I would have liked to see his deviousness more overtly from the start, but Hedda must be bored in her marriage indeed if she is willing to entertain notions of “forming a triangle” with this tedious man. Thea Elvsted (Jane Withers) is broken and bowed, close to tears and, with one exception, movingly sotto voce throughout.

The production revolves, as it should, around the moods of Hedda, and Faith Turner is superb: disdainful, condescending, enigmatic and cruel. Hedda wants to play all the men she meets and yet she says she cannot condone infidelity. Neither, it seems, can she abide her husband’s touch. The disastrous touchpaper is lit as soon as Hedda admits, “For once, I want to control a man’s fate.”

Janet Podd writes in her programme note that Hedda has been brought up by her father in boyish ways, learning to ride and shoot, and to be in control of her own destiny. As a woman she is deprived of this until the final moment when she opts to take it back. At the end of Act One, when Ibsen allows his main character to play with a pair of pistols, it is a fair sign that things are not going to end well.



Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Pavel Gonevski


Hedda Gabler

The Maltings Theatre until 27th November


Also reviewed this year at this venue:


Vinegar Tom | ★★★ | October 2021


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