Tag Archives: Naomi Dawson

“Romeo and Juliet” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

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

“Mirabel” at the Oval House Theatre

This cerebral piece, simply billed as a story told by Chris Goode, is adventurous, exciting and, ultimately, puzzling. It’s a show that uses theatrical conventions expertly and proves to be entertaining. But it is so deliberately destabilising that it’s hard to take away much – avoid it if fables frustrate you.

We start settling down to a something close to a fairy tale, though always for adults. It’s the end of the world and Mirabel is alone… apart from her talking teddy bear. In search of adults, she assembles a gang that includes ghosts and a rock as we journey through an apocalyptic landscape.

All this is beautifully written by Goode, who plays with many a sci-fi trope in his narrative. Simple sentences present complex imagery and are startlingly original, with plenty of humour, too. It’s a long monologue, but Goode’s skills as a performer are excellent and he holds an audience well. Aided by director Rebecca McCutcheon, a set comprising hidden depths by Naomi Dawson, and great lighting design from Lee Curran, Mirabel is wonderfully staged. A section of animation from Lou Sumray is stand-alone strong.

As evocative as the story is – and considering its bizarre touches, that’s a big achievement – judging its effectiveness surely requires the play to have clearer aims. This can’t be an exercise in seeing the world through the eyes of a child as, fantasy aside, Mirabel isn’t believable. Political concerns, such as the environment or consumerism, are oblique (they’re bound to be if you bring in UFOs). Is it an allegory? Maybe: the depths of Mirabel’s loneliness are painfully detailed and her growth during the play gives us plenty to ponder. Yet what the script describes as a coda, a bravura spoken-word section, suggests that pinning his work down wouldn’t please Goode. An explanation for the story is offered, then withdrawn, as chaos encroaches to unpleasant effect.

The world of Mirabel that we are allowed access to is well worth visiting. If you like travel for its own sake, then this is a first-class voyage. I am just not quite sure if the trip has any larger point.

Until 17 November 2018


Photo by The Other Richard