Storyhouse Originals production
Grosvenor Open Air Theatre, Chester
July 15-August 28, 2022; 2 hrs 55 mins
Romeo and Juliet, in the open air, in the round. Would I hear a word that was said? Missing dialogue is the biggest problem at Chester's Grosvenor Park, but this is far outweighed by the pleasures.
The small stage, set in the middle of an audience happily tucking into chicken drumsticks and prosecco, makes for a cracking atmosphere. Add in a balmy summer evening, and even the occasional distraction of a popping cork or an Airbus en route to Manchester couldn't spoil a great night’s entertainment.
The cast was able to develop an immediate, intimate atmosphere that suited Shakespeare’s tragic romance admirably.
Director John Young sets this Romeo and Juliet in Italy in the 1950s, though the main focus of that decision seems to be merely evocative costumes. The production otherwise remains faithful to Shakespeare's plot and language, but adds plenty of business to the action.
The first act in particular sees Nurse (Nicola Blackman), Mercutio (Haylie Jones) and Benvolio (Eddy Payne) interact with the audience in an almost pantomimic way, though as the tragedy progresses the mood deepens into the love, violence and pathos inextricably linked to the story. There are some almost balletic fight scenes involving male and female players too; no simpering girls on the sidelines here.
The play is nothing, of course, without chemistry between Romeo (Samuel Awayo) and Juliet (Joelle Brabban). Brabban in particular develops an almost tangible passion, which leaves us in no doubt about the depth of love shared between these two.
They are assisted by a judicious sampling of music which, while having little to do with Elizabethan England or even 1950s Italy, has been selected for its aptness of lyrics or ability to push the story. The songs serve the moment and set the tone well.
Despite being such a tragic and familiar story, this is a memorable theatrical experience. Dust off your deckchairs, cool some cava and pack a hamper for an enchanting summer night in Grosvenor Park.
Info and tickets here