Sunday, 16 June 2019

COMMUNITY THEATRE REVIEW: Romeo And Juliet - Prescot Woodland Theatre - Merseyside.

Rebranded and fresher than ever Imaginarium, theatre and community arts organisation, (formerly known as MATE) brings Shakespeare’s tragic love story that coined the phrase ‘star-crossed lovers’ to the open-air venues of this 2019 Merseyside summer tour. Romeo And Juliet is an interesting choice given the wide range of age groups in the audience including lots of quite small children and I went to the opening performance at the wonderful Prescot Woodland Theatre with a great deal of curiosity.

It is worth a recap of this well know and well-loved story and the prologue opened with Prince Escalus played by a queenly Megan Feery declaring a zero-tolerance policy to the street brawling that had increased with the feuding between two leading families of Verona, The Capulets and the Montagues. Escalus warns that the teenage children and heirs of these families, Romeo Montague (Kieran McCarthy-Hoare) and Juliet Capulet (Patricia Hodgson) will inevitably pay the price of their parents' feud. Despite all efforts by her father to marry fourteen-year old Juliet to the wealthy Paris, she falls quickly in love with Romeo, a romantic dreamer who is in love with love itself. Tragic consequences unfold when a plot by a supportive holy friar to aid the lovers’ escape goes horribly wrong and both die, all because a letter failed to be delivered.

What became apparent is that there is always a new audience for Shakespeare (Anyone who’s ever sent a text message will understand the frustration of ‘undelivered’) and you should never underestimate the resilience of a British audience to the weather. The children were well-behaved and engaged, seated in the natural amphitheatre on comfortable camping chairs making up a relaxed well-wrapped-up audience eating and drinking (picnics and wine are positively encouraged) their way through the performance of almost three-hours including a good twenty-minute break. This is so much more than a performance. It’s a fun day out. Huge gazebos protect the audience from thankfully few drops of rain that only added to the thrill of the show. Set by artistic director Gaynor La Rocca in 1783, the theme of this production is Carnevale and that is exactly what the wonderful cast brought to the party. The play felt like it was as Shakespeare might have intended; yes, it’s a tragic story but La Rocca finds humour wherever she can and there was more than enough in the first half to keep everyone entertained. The amazingly colourful costumes of the Capulet ball where Romeo and Juliet first met were a highlight of the show filling the wide performance area with a fabulously choreographed scene of music, ribbon dancing and wondrous fire dancing by the equally fabulous and versatile Holly Blue who also doubles as Romeo’s cousin, Benvolio Montague. She has some lively scenes with Romeo’s, mostly drunken, friend Mercutio played hilariously by Connor Simkins until his untimely death that was sadly in the first half as I could have watched him all day. Sword fights abound but there’s a great deal of love around and the partnership of Nurse (Carmel Skelly) with Hodgson’s Juliet is a joy to watch. Skelly makes the most of this leading role with a touching performance that highlights her motherly-like love against Juliet’s, well intended but waspish mother, Lady Capulet, played by Charlotte Holguin who tries to tame her rebellious daughter. Herself married and already a mother at Juliet’s age she understands duty and the ways of the times but also wants to protect her daughter from her overbearing father, Lord Capulet (Francesco La Rocca) who has arranged for her marriage to Paris (Adam Vinten). Teenage girls rarely heed their mothers, and Juliet is no exception, so when Capulet tries to force the marriage there is a disturbing and convincing father / daughter argument that leaves you wondering if Francesco La Rocca was born in the wrong century. As things go from bad to worse the second half is necessarily gloomy. We end with a most touching funeral scene with harmonised chanting, a team of monks and enough weeping to satisfy the most romantic in the audience. To offset this the acting of the whole ensemble and cast steps up with some remarkable performances. A beautifully bearded David Kernick excels as the rotund Friar Lawrence bringing pathos to the role of this father figure. McCarthy-Hoare as Romeo holds his character throughout showing him as a fickle, romantic, tender and sensitive dreamer who puts love above duty. It is no wonder as, saving the best to last, it is Hodgson as Juliet who steals the show in a beautifully nuanced performance that captures her and the audience's hearts.

They sing, they clap, they dance, they cry. It’s a glorious take on Shakespeare that is amazing value for money whether it’s your first time or a regular and takes community theatre to new level.

Reviewer - Barbara Sherlock
on - 15.6.19

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