It’s great to be back in the theatre, especially at my favourite outdoor venue. Last year’s revival of Jesus Christ Superstar was a blessed break between lockdowns I’m still grateful for. But even loving the location, and welcoming the opening of a new season, this production isn’t going to set anybody’s summer on fire.
At just over an hour and half, director Kimberley Sykes’ version of Shakespeare’s tragic love story is speedy and serves as an effective introduction to the play. Being used to interpretations (with different times and locations), you might find this no-nonsense version, with no tricks or twists, a relief. But there’s also a sense of something remiss in such a stripped back show.
Take Naomi Dawson’s scaffolded design. This is a set that has its moment… no spoilers here. But is it worth the wait? For most of the show the cast seem lost, running around and providing the audience with little sense of a space inhabited (Juliet’s balcony is deliberately ill-defined). Giving small attention to Prince Escalus adds to a sense of characters out of any time or place.
One conceit Sykes does introduce is to have characters who die leave the stage and join the audience. But these ghostly presences in the stalls add little. And a break in the logic ends up frustrating – Juliet undergoes the same experience, raising from the dead, after taking her sleeping draft. But of course, she isn’t dead.
Regrettably, this is a production it is hard not to damn with faint praise. The performances are competent and the delivery clear. Isabel Adomakoh Young and Joel MacCormack take the title roles and acquit themselves well. There might be more romance, but leads are good in scenes with Peter Hamilton Dyer’s Friar Lawrence. There’s also an impressive Mercutio to enjoy in Cavan Clarke’s controlled performance.
There just isn’t anything remarkable here, so the overall impression is of a perfunctory production. But let’s end on a high note, with Giles Thomas’ music for the show. Combining dance with a suggestion of Vaughan Williams, the score adds romance and tension managing to be noticeable while never overpowering the action. Thomas’ work is excellent and provides the show with a much-needed highlight.
Until 24 July 2021
Photo by Jane Hobson