It’s been said before that (with reference to trekking up to Hornchurch on the District line) it’s a few stops beyond Barking, and this borderline anarchic production only underlines what unexpected treasures a Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch production can deliver. Barry (David Nellist) and Sharon (Joanne Seymour) set about clearing up their front room, with a camera already set up. Having run out of things to do across the various lockdowns, a homemade truncated version of Romeo and Juliet is what they have decided to do. Their nephew Alex (Jack Scannell-Wood) is studying the play at school, and as they are unable to take him to the theatre to see the show, they’ve come up with their own version of it.
Given how much has been taken out of the Bard’s play – this production falls far short of the “two hours’ traffic of our stage” as stated in the Prologue – it is essentially faithful to Romeo and Juliet as it is commonly known, with Sharon and Barry repeatedly breaking character and double-checking their scripts to make sure the salient points are covered. Thus, for instance, the entire dialogue of Act IV Scene I (a conversation between Friar Laurence, Paris and Juliet) is ditched in favour of a synopsis, followed by Sharon saying to Barry, “Is that it? Here’s your vial.”
The play proper begins by being somewhat reminiscent of many people’s school experiences of studying (or trying to study) Shakespeare, in which pupils would read aloud as best they could, trying to decipher the words on the page as well as their meaning. But this appears to be deliberately done here, as a device to lower the expectations of the audience before the dynamic duo hit their stride soon enough. Due to some mix-ups with Sharon’s online orders for props and costumes, some of the outfits were ridiculously ill-fitting, and as it was too late to return and replace an incorrect cardboard cut-out received, Barry insisted on making do with what they had. The result is hilarious, and without wanting to get too political, deeply satisfying. Michael Gove slain, and Romeo banished.
Despite the distinct feel of a homemade video, there are subtle hints galore that some thought has been put into this. Certain scenes use still image backgrounds to create a setting (as Barry put it, prior to Act V Scene III, “We are ready for Zoom in the Tomb”), but they are always perfectly blocked. In Act III Scene IV, when Capulet and Lady Capulet (both Barry, don’t ask) are in conversation with Juliet, Sharon knows to lean well enough to the side to remain visible to the camera. The show also demonstrates (whether or not it set out to do so) that Romeo and Juliet can be done with working-class accents and doesn’t have to be delivered in the dulcet tones of the Royal Shakespeare Company or the National Theatre.
There are also hints at how much of a team effort each and every theatre production is. Barry isn’t the first person to enter a scene not quite fully attired because there simply wasn’t enough time to put their costume on properly, and won’t be the last. There was even a show stop (albeit scripted), and as there weren’t (for obvious reasons) any understudies that could be called on, Sharon and Barry’s improvisations are a testament to the old adage that the show must go on. In amongst the hilarity and the limitations of what can be achieved because of Covid-related restrictions, this production is a love letter to theatre in lockdown and provides some much-needed laughter in these difficult times.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Sharon ‘n’ Barry do ‘Romeo & Juliet’
The cast is: David Nellist (BBC One’s Sherlock and Macbeth, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch) and Joanne Seymour (BBC One’s Eastenders and The Killing of Sister George, Palace Theatre Southend). Completing the cast are Jessica Rothon and Jack Scannell-Wood, from Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch’s QYouth programme, alternating as Sharon and Barry’s
25 February – 6 March 2021
A Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch production
Sharon ‘n’ Barry do Romeo & Juliet
Director Douglas Rintoul