Romeo and Juliet
Theatre Space NE in Roker Park
16th July 2016
On Saturday evening I joined a bunch of people in Roker Park, Sunderland for an out door performance of Romeo and Juliet. I have a love hate relationship with this play. I think it has some of the most beautiful lyrical writing from Mr Shakespeare but also the most annoying characters, added to this the plot device of the undelivered letter and the unfortunate timing by mere minutes in the final scene and my irritation is complete. I'm quite sure that Thomas Hardy's plots were all inspired by this device of Shakespeare! But enough of that - I was here to review this particular production of Shakespeare's tragedy of the star-crossed lovers not the writing of Shakespeare himself. But you may want to take that into account in the review - it was probably going to be a tough call to get me waxing as lyrical as The Bard himself...
Plays in the Park, it has to be said are a great way to introduce people to theatre - particularly people who maybe would find the idea of going to the theatre a bit daunting. For these, all you do is turn up at the designated entrance of the park and join the crowd. No worrying about finding your seat, or feeling out of place. As we arrive orange behoodied helpers ask for postcodes, and offer advice on where the best place to stand for the start would be. It is all very relaxed, but it is quietly efficient in its organisation. As we wait, watching the rest of the audience gather, the actors also begin to arrive and set up for the first scene. Drums, guitars, and other percussion instruments are brought on, actors stand in little clusters chatting. We are given instructions from "Adventure Central" on protocols and safety issues during the performance....and then the action begins! Of course Romeo and Juliet starts with a fight scene - those Montagues and Capulets can't pass in the street without a situation developing. Tension builds with single drum beats and the call of "Star Crossed Lovers" and the opposing groups line up, the drum beats burst out and the fight kicks off - fists and feet fly, but no swords yet. The swords and bloodshed will come later - for now the fight is stopped by the arrival of the law and the leaders of the warring families are charged to keep their houses in order. It's a dynamic start - and sets the background and the pace for the play. Against this backdrop of fury and violence we have the contrast of a lovelorn Romeo. Pining for his love who has resolved to remain chaste and will not succumb to his advances. His friends, Benvolio (Steven Blackshaw) and Mercutio (Dale Jewitt), despair of him and he becomes the butt of their many bawdy jokes as they try to cajole him from his despondency. These two are the perfect foil for the seriousness of the warring families - they provide lighthearted relief and bring much humour to the play, reminding us that they are actually mostly just boys and girls, in their teens and full of the rebelliousness and restlessness that such an age brings.
And so, of course, Romeo's broken heart is quickly mended and Rosalyn forgotten once he sees the beauteous Juliet, only for it to be beset with a whole new set of problems when he discovers whose daughter she is! Am not going to spoil it and tell you the whole story - but you know it's not going to end well!
This production is fast paced, full of emotion and humour - surprising for a tragedy! The individual performances are great, the fight scenes beautifully choreographed and the anger and anguish realistic. If accents are a little more north-east England than north-east Italy, I think that can be forgiven.
Stand out performances for me were Romeo - William Davies brought such a mix of youthful enthusiasm and wretchedness to the role, he reminded me of an over-enthusiastic puppy! And Friar Lawrence - played by David John Hopper, again played with such humour yet his character displayed so much empathy with the plight of the young lovers.
I enjoyed the performance immensely - and the characters were not so annoying as I feared! Perhaps the recent anger and recrimination that has been witnessed since the EU referendum resonated with the themes of the play, where the characters all behave irrationally in their anger. Or perhaps the quality of this production won me over?
The last performance is tonight (Sunday 17th) at 7pm, if you can't get there tonight you can see the next productions from Theatre Space NE in parks in Sunderland over the summer - watch for George and the Dragon in Mowbray Park, and then more Shakespeare in Barnes Park with the Taming of the Shrew!
Lady Montague - Natasha-Sofia Goulden
The Prince - Steven Charles Stobbs
Benvolio - Steven Blackshaw
Paris - David McCarthy
Lord Capulet - Rob Reed
Juliet - Natasha Haws
Romeo - William Wyn Davies
Nurse - Corinne Kilvington
Tybalt - Jacob Ernie Anderton
Lady Capulet - Eilidh Talman
Friar Lawrence - David John Hopper
Mercutio - Dale Jewitt