Home » London Theatre Reviews » Romeo and Juliet at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre | Review

Romeo and Juliet at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre | Review

You know what they say: Location. Location. Location. After months and months of internal darkness what better place to re-discover the light than at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre: it’s as if the world has just been created and then – let there be theatre! – in all its wonder, in all its glory. Coming to this beautiful alfresco space is like entering – to borrow a phrase from Richard II – “another Eden, demi-paradise”. The location is perfect, and this show does it more than justice.

Joel MacCormack and Isabel Adomakoh Young as Romeo and Juliet (2) at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo Jane Hobson.
Joel MacCormack and Isabel Adomakoh Young as Romeo and Juliet (2) at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Photo Jane Hobson.

It’s a vibrant, pacy, rumbustious cyclone of a show which blows our senses to smithereens before completely blowing us away. This is no lovey-dovey Romeo and Juliet: this is forbidden love on speed that causes an earthquake that wreaks havoc on families and takes lives for fun. Mercutio, Tybalt, Romeo, Juliet, Paris, Lady Montague – the bodies, rather than piling up, join the audience zombie-like to bear withering witness to the gratuitous actions of the warring factions.

First to go is Mercutio. Cavan Clarke gives us, with his Irish brogue, a leprechaunistic jokester who is the catalyst to the mayhem. His invocation of the whimsical dream-catcher Queen Mab, of fairy midwife fame, seems to set in motion the unstoppable train of events that lead to the devastation of two families. Clarke prods and teases, provokes and preaches, cackles and chortles and is the architect of his own undignified demise as he dies under his friend Romeo’s protective arm. We like a provocateur, don’t we? Particularly one who makes us laugh, for which the impish Clarke gives us plenty of opportunity in his engaging performance.

Tybalt, his rather cowardly slayer, is played by Michelle Fox with effervescent gusto and a virulent glint in her sword. There’s palpable menace here: she’s never gonna take any prisoners and thumb-biting rage is her metier. On swords, not sure why the two swords resided high up in glass cases for the protagonists to smash with their fists to retrieve them (Mercutio seeming to actually cut his hand in doing so) but it made for a nice dramatic moment.

There is great support from Peter Hamilton Dyer as Friar Laurence who settles, at first, like a gentle comfort blanket of mist over the rapidly deteriorating course of events. The Friar is one who survives the carnage though it is his botched plan that does for the lovers: Dyer cleverly exudes the persona of a calm and serene swan, with everything under control, while his legs are thrashing about, unseen, below the surface. Emma Cunniffe as Nurse gives us lots of nursey titbits interspersed with much-feigned shock-horror double face-palming and a turncoat ability that would make even John Bercow blush.

It’s a great Company and Montagues and Capulets alike give excellent support throughout the show but it is the star-crossed lovers themselves that are the focus of the play and by whom it will rise or fall. And this Romeo and this Juliet do not disappoint. Joel MacCormack as Romeo is a wide-eyed romancer, sometimes positive, sometimes nervous, always seemingly looking over his shoulder as if expecting the Hand of Doom to rest gently on it and
deliberately thwart his intentions. We go with MacCormack and his unworldly innocence, a man excited by what dreams Mercutio’s Queen Mab might have to offer. Yes, we feel for Romeo but we also feel like shouting “Stop depending on everyone else and grab your own destiny!” MacCormack gets this across with a subtlety that shows an actor at the top of his game.

And then there is the mini-tornado that cascades through the action like a breath of fresh hippy crack: Isabel Adomakoh Young adorns Juliet with a kind of precocious charm that emanates through every pore and imperceptibly invades the audience so that when she lies atrophied in the Capulets’ mausoleum we are inwardly shouting: stay with me, stay with me, look at me, stay with me! Young is the biz in this show. She laughs, she cries, she runs, jumps and climbs cat-like up the dauntingly high scaffold set to dizzying heights – and dizzying heights is where her performance reaches. It’s an absolute pleasure to be cast under her spell and listen as she makes Shakespeare’s language make sense and be entirely relevant – as does her partner in crime McCormack.

Director Kimberley Sykes imbues the show with an exciting contemporary feel without falling into the trap of going full-on modern. As other productions have discovered, the use of a mobile phone would render the undelivered letter that heralds the devastating climax of the play unrealistic. Sykes gives us a show that is fast and furious (yes, Jake) with events tumbling down the scaffold with no time to breathe. Rip-roaring fights happen (Kev McCurdy, Fight Director), characters die, their tortured souls look on and summary justice is meted out. It’s epitomised by the highly original and effective dance sequence where statuesque gargoyle-like images framed at different levels in that imposing scaffolding edifice and lit by eerie UV lights, start slo-mo disco gyrating with zombie-staccato movements that seem to reflect the unshakeable sense of morbidity that powers the show. At the denouement, the live-flame fire sticks in the tomb are a masterstroke and Ciaran Bagnall’s Lighting Design complements the show effectively – outdoor lighting is always a compromise. Giles Thomas’s pulsating soundtrack, heavy on ostinati via synthesised strings, never lets up and constantly underscores the feeling of impending doom.

The cheering and applause at the curtain – a well-deserved standing ovation – encouraged the idea that troupes of actors, technicians and theatre enablers (lots of waiters and waitresses doing the hard-yards keeping everyone
refreshed before the show) can still produce the magic despite those long, dark, dismal days. That and a liberal sprinkling of Queen Mab’s fairy dust, of course.

5 Star Rating

Review by Peter Yates

Romeo & Juliet
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Kimberley Sykes

Open Air Theatre, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4NU
Running time: 110 minutes. Please note that this production runs without an interval.
17th June to 24th July 2021
Shakespeare’s timeless story of two young people torn apart by a divided society and forbidden love.

The cast includes: Isabel Adomako Young, Aretha Ayeh, Ellie Beavan, Cavan Clarke, Tom Claxton, Emma Cunniffe, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Ryan Ellsworth, Michelle Fox, Andrew French, Sarah Hoare, Irvine Iqbal, Richard Leeming, Joel MacCormack, Priyank Morjaria, Louise Mai Newberry, Shadee Yaghoubi and Marc Zayat.

CREATIVES
Ciaran Bagnall Lighting Designer
Christian Bravo Sound Associate*
Stuart Burt CDG Casting Director
Naomi Dawson Designer
Catja Hamilton Lighting Associate*
Barbara Houseman Season Associate Director/Voice & Text Director
Fiona Kennedy Voice Associate*
Ingrid Mackinnon Movement Director
Kev McCurdy Fight Director
Darcel Osei Movement Associate*
Jon Pashley Associate Director
Annelie Powell CDG Casting Director
Kimberley Sykes Director
Giles Thomas Sound Designer & Composer

* The Open Air Theatre is proud to launch its inaugural Creative Team Associates programme providing opportunities for artists early in their career to broaden their experience making large scale work and be supported and mentored by the season’s lead creatives.

https://openairtheatre.com/whats-on

Author

  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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