ROMEO AND JULIET by William Shakespeare
15-17 & 19 May 2019
This was a thoroughly enjoyable production of Romeo and Juliet, staged in the dramatic space of Dorchester Abbey. There were some excellent performances from the principals, but, before we go on, one criticism if I may. The stage was built far too low for most of the audience in unraked church pews to be able to see properly. I heard complaints and noticed a number of empty seats after the interval. Not good.
Director Caroline Seed mitigated the problem to some extent with what would have been, in any case, a good use of the space for dramatic effect. The use of the entire length of the abbey’s long aisle for entrances played to good effect, particularly in the build-up to the fight scene between Mercutio (Elizabeth Dobson) and Tybalt (Alex Bristow). Likewise the door to the abbey’s cloister garden situated halfway along the aisle enabled the action to be moved away from the stage. The staging of the ball at chez Capulet (when our star-crossed lovers first meet) was less successful. The side chapel housing the shrine of St Birinus is a large space, but almost invisible to most audience members.
The lighting design deserves mention, although lighting cues could have been a little sharper on the evening I attended. Vicky Goodall is to be congratulated on her costume design – combining sixteenth century dresses and tunics with rather a lot of motorcycle boots and Doc Martens. Not so much steam punk as renaissance punk?
Well done to fight director Dean Forster for some thrilling set pieces. The best (because it was the biggest!) was the opening brawl between the Capulets and Montagues in the town square. There was excellent use of the deep stage and most of the combatants looked as though they really meant it.
So to the principal performers. We were treated to a notable Juliet by Kelly Ann Stewart who brought, fire, passion and intelligence to the role. In many ways, Stewart provided the lynchpin around which other talented actors could revolve. She was well matched with Zach Morris’s impetuous, troubled Romeo.
Mercutio was cast as a female role with Elizabeth Dobson playing it as a tomboy with a fondness for the local lads. It was a strong performance with zest and energy, and an obvious relish for the comedic aspects of this appealing character.
Capulet (Juliet’s father) was given a confident swagger by Martin Eggleston. I also enjoyed Lorna Stevenson-Walker’s matriarchal performance as Lady Capulet. Her voluminous gowns put me in mind of Joyce Grenfell’s ‘Stately as a Galleon’.
Maria Crocker made the most of the Nurse’s subversive humour and physical comedy, and was one of the strong points of the production. Likewise Richard Ward brought us an assured performance as Friar Lawrence as a slightly bumbling, avuncular figure whose best intentions lead to tragedy. Although I’m not sure I entirely believed that such a calm character would also mess about with dodgy potions.
Final mentions must go to James Cooper, a young actor who impressed me as Benvolio. Also to Alex Bristow whose Tybalt was not the out-and-out baddy who kills the well-loved Mercutio, but a slightly more nuanced character whose actions are driven as much by the family feud as by personal choice.
Of course all the principals were battling for attention with that other fine performer, the abbey itself. The soaring vertical space of the ancient church cannot fail to impart drama to any production.
One thing I learned was that the savvy members of the audience brought cushions with them to avoid numb derrieres from the hard wooden pews. That aside, this was an entertaining and visually striking production with two or three stand-out performances amongst the principals.
Photo credits: Dorchester Festival
About the Author
Mike Lord has been involved with amateur theatre for over twenty years, mainly as an actor but also, more recently, as a director.
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